29 May 2015, Ishtar and Babylon hotel bombings, Iraq

02 June, 2015 Hotel Attacks

The Gulf Times reports that ISIS, on 29 May 2015, claimed responsibility for bombing two hotels in Baghdad at around midnight on Thursday, 28 May: the Cristal Grand Ishtar and Warwick Babylon. Both hotels are upscale and popular with business travelers and government officials. They are moreover common wedding party and conference venues. Some news outlets such as AFP and Yahoo suggest that damage might have also been done to the nearby Palestine International Hotel, but that is unconfirmed.

The Washington Post says that an Iraqi ISIS operative drove a bomb-laden car to the Ishtar, parked it, and left. The same operative then reportedly drove a car bomb to the Babylon, slipped into the compound with wedding party traffic – where no security check was performed – and then accelerated toward the lobby and detonated his device.

The Babylon blast punched holes in the building, shattered windows, and destroyed nearby cars. Authorities found a second device in the Babylon parking lot and defused it. Skynews reports the explosion killed six and wounded 14.

Shortly thereafter, the Ishtar car bomb detonated in the hotel’s car park. It shattered windows, scorched the building, and mangled more than 15 carsThe Washington Post says 30 cars. The Post also reported that 90 rooms were damaged. Skynews says the explosion killed four and wounded 13.

Initial cost estimates of the Ishtar carnage firstly stood at $4 million. Taking into account bomb blast cleanup, temporary repairs, full repairs, insurance processing, vehicle replacement, mortuary affairs, and potential lawsuits, the cost of the damage is expected to rise dramatically. The same holds true for the Babylon.

Security at the Ishtar is reportedly usually quite good, but in this case, some news outlets report that security at the entrance of the hotel was light. Other reporting says hotel security in Baghdad in general is lax with superficial searches of cars, poorly applied access control, and slack perimeter security, specifically regarding proactive security measures such as counter surveillance. Shia militias purportedly have protected the Ishtar in the past. It is unclear if they were on station or not during the attack.

One reason for the presumed light security might have been because of the government’s lifting of Baghdad’s 10-year long curfew in February. This action likely signaled to the city that the government believed the security situation had improved, and certain private and government security forces might have downgraded their threat conditions, readiness, and situational awareness as a result.

Lifting the curfew was an odd decision given that, 1) ISIS has taken over sections of western Iraq, and that, 2) ISIS continues to fight for other sections of the country. The National, a UAE-based news outlet, cited Mr. Sameer Al Shwaili, an Iraqi counter terrorism official, saying of the hotel attacks: “The situation is directly related to operations in Anbar, and operations in Tikrit.” Prudent security measures should have been in place in Baghdad, particularly at hotels.

Sources and further reading:

“Twin Car Bombs at Baghdad Hotels Kill 15,” VOA News, 29 May 2015.

“15 killed in Baghdad hotel bombings,” The National, 29 May 2015.

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