Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for a triple suicide bombing and gun attack on 7 July which targeted the Shia shrine of Sayyid Mohammad bin Ali al-Hadi in the Shia-majority town of Balad, located around 90kms north of Baghdad. Several gunmen stormed the site and shot at worshippers after a man detonated an explosive belt at the gate. The site also came under rocket fire during the attack, which killed at least 40 people and wounded 60. Five days later, IS carried out a vehicle bombing at a market in the Shia-dominated district of Rashidiyah in Baghdad which killed twelve people and wounded 37.
Attacks on Shia shrines are rare as most are well protected by Shia militias (known as the Popular Mobilisation Units, PMUs). However, the al-Hadi shrine is of lesser religious significance and so security was relatively limited. This allowed IS to stage such a sophisticated attack, and the incident underlines its desire to aggravate sectarian tensions by targeting Shia interests to provoke a significant Shia response. The strategy has been showing signs of success for some months and dozens of Sunnis were burned to death by PMUs in retaliation for the major IS attack in Baghdad we reported last time.