The Islamic State (IS) is taking credit for two deadly attacks in Iraq on Friday: a roadside bomb and a suicide attack that killed a combined 26 people.
Both attacks targeted Shiites — the ruling religious majority in the country — at a time when IS, a radical Sunni group, is on the defensive in Iraq for the first time in over a year.
On Friday, IS lost control of the Sinjar region of Northern Iraq in the face of a Kurdish offensive backed-up by US airpower. IS took over Sinjar in the summer of 2014, in a surprise attack that forced tens of thousands of Yazidis, a small religious minority that's lived in the region for hundreds of years, to flee. On Friday, the Kurdish force that retook the area tweeted out: "ISIL defeated and on the run," using an alternative name for the Islamic State.
The Iraq military also announced on Friday that it had extended its front in Ramadi, a city to the West of Baghdad that's been under IS control since last May. Iraqi police had removed explosives and roadblocks that had long impeded a military advance. At the same time, the Iraqi military successfully cut off IS supply lines to the city, clearing the way for a new offensive.
Retribution was swift. IS launched a suicide attack on Friday targeting a Shiite funeral procession in Baghdad. The ceremony was held for a member of the Hashid Shaabi, one of the government sponsored Shiite militia groups that have kept the Islamic State at bay. The man was said to have died recently on the front in the southwest suburbs outside Baghdad.
A statement distributed online by IS supporters said it had targeted "a group of rejectionist Hashid," a derogatory term the group uses to refer to Shiites.
Also on Friday, IS set off a roadside bomb at a Shiite religious shrine in Sadr City that killed 5 people and wounded 15 others. The statement of responsibility explained that the attack was "revenge for our monotheist brothers in al-Fallujah, al-Anbar, and Salahaldin."
Those three cities are currently major fronts in the Iraqi government's fight to reclaim land taken by IS over the past year. Since IS fighters swept through Iraq last summer, conquering major cities in the north and west of the country, the Iraqi state has relied more and more on Shi'ite militias to bolster the beleaguered Iraqi army.
In fact, the country's highest Shiite religious authority, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a rare call to arms, in the summer of 2014, rallying the country's Shiites to join the fight against IS. Over the past year and a half, these militias have coalesced into the Popular Mobilization Forces — which coordinates directly with Iran — and has largely replaced the Iraqi army as the country's premier fighting force.
As the Popular Forces have struggled to push IS back across the Syrian border, Shiite neighborhoods and religious sites in Baghdad have increasingly become targets for terror attacks. The most recent attack came in early October, when IS took responsibility for a trio of bomb attacks targeting Shiites that killed a combined 57 people.
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