Rising Insecurity in Nigerian Capital, Al-Sadr Supporters Occupy Iraqi Parliament, and Increased Tensions on Kosovo-Serbian Border
Nigeria: Recent Attacks Fuel Insecurity Concerns in Abuja
Authorities in Abuja remain on high alert following a series of recent security incidents involving organized criminal groups and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Local officials closed all schools on July 27 over fears of a possible mass kidnapping – a common tactic used by various armed groups (locally known as bandits) operating in Nigeria’s northwest and Middle Belt regions. The order came two days after an ambush on the Presidential Guards Brigade in Bwari – a Local Government Area located approximately 30 km (18 mi) north of central Abuja – that killed eight soldiers killed and injured three others. Another incident involved an attack on an army checkpoint near Zuma Rock, along the Kaduna-Abuja highway, on July 28; the exact number of casualties remains unclear. The Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) also suspended train services on certain Abuja routes following an attempted kidnapping on a train en route to the city on Aug. 3; the Abuja-Kaduna service remains suspended following the abduction of 65 passengers in March. While no group has claimed responsibility for these incidents, several local news sources attributed the attacks to bandits. In addition to a heightened threat of organized crime activity, the terror threat in the capital remains elevated following an ISWAP raid on a penitentiary facility in Abuja’s Kuje suburb on July 5, which marked the first attack claimed by the group in the capital. ISWAP fighters used explosives and small arms to enter the premises and freed at least 800 prisoners, including 64 Boko Haram members. The incident demonstrates Abuja’s vulnerability to terror attacks and the inability of the Nigerian security forces to detect, deter, and respond to serious security threats in the FCT. In addition to its activities in Abuja, ISWAP has orchestrated multiple attacks targeting civilians and the Nigerian military in the Middle Belt region – including the states of Kogi and Niger – in 2022. These incidents seem to suggest that the group is seeking to expand beyond its main areas of operation in the northeast. While the long-term implications of the ISWAP prison raid in Abuja are not yet clear, an increase in crime in and around the capital is likely in the short-to-medium term, as only around 440 inmates were recaptured or voluntarily returned to the prison. Furthermore, Nigerian authorities may redeploy some troops engaged in the ongoing counter-terrorism offensive in the northeast to Abuja in an effort to reinforce the security presence in the capital; however, this could allow ISWAP fighters to regain control of more remote areas previously secured by the military.
Iraq: Al-Sadr Supporters Repeatedly Storm Baghdad’s Green Zone
Thousands of supporters of Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr continue to occupy the Iraqi parliament in an open-ended sit-in after storming Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone on July 30. Protesters opposed to the nomination of al-Sadr’s political rival for prime minister breached security in the heavily-guarded Green Zone (home to government buildings and foreign embassies), throwing stones at security forces who responded with water cannon, tear gas, and stun grenades. Iraq’s Ministry of Health reported that more than 100 civilians and 25 military personnel were injured in the confrontation. The storming of the Green Zone marks the second such incident in one week; al-Sadr supporters previously broke into the parliament and interrupted a session to nominate a new prime minister on July 27. The unrest follows nine months of political deadlock triggered by parliamentary elections held in October 2021, when Al-Sadr’s Sadrist Movement bloc won 73 of 329 seats but failed to reach the two-thirds majority required to nominate Iraq’s next prime minister. Unwilling to compromise and collaborate with the Shia Coordination Framework – a pro-Iran alliance of political parties and militias – al-Sadr and his lawmakers resigned their positions on June 13, leaving their rival political bloc to form Iraq’s new government. In response to the ongoing sit-in, thousands of anti-Sadr demonstrators staged a protest outside the Green Zone on Aug. 1, raising concerns of a potential escalation of tensions between supporters of the two political blocs. In addition to the Green Zone, civil unrest has increased throughout Baghdad as pro-Sadr rallies and counter-protests have spread throughout the city, resulting in disruptions to transportation and business continuity. The political turmoil has also taken a toll on the country’s economy, as no budget was created for the 2022 fiscal year; without national funding, officials are unable to authorize projects required for infrastructure maintenance, essential services, and job creation. In the absence of a comprehensive government solution to improve the current political climate, civil unrest will likely persist in the short term, and clashes between pro- and anti-Sadr protesters cannot be ruled out.
The Balkans: Tensions Flare on Kosovo-Serbian Border
A dispute between Serbia and Kosovo over identification documents and license plates triggered protests and gunfire on July 31, prompting the closure of the Brnjak and Jarinje border crossings connecting northern Kosovo and southern Serbia. Air raid sirens were activated in Kosovo’s Mitrovica for two hours amid the unrest. Media reports also indicated that unknown gunmen opened fire on Kosovo police officers, and local media in Kosovo confirmed that 11 people were injured during the protests, although the exact cause of the injuries remains unclear. The unrest was triggered by a Kosovar government announcement on June 29 that owners of vehicles equipped with Serbian license plates must register for a Republic of Kosovo (RKS) plate before Sept. 30. Additionally, the order stated that Serbian citizens would not be permitted entry to Kosovo with any Serbian ID cards and must replace the documents with temporary declaration forms valid for 90 days until individuals are able to obtain Kosovo-issued IDs. Since Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in 2008, the majority of ethnic Serbs living in villages in northern provinces continue to resist Kosovo’s attempts to establish institutional control in the region. In September 2021, similar ID and license plate regulations also fueled protests by ethnic Serbs residing in Kosovo, with an estimated 70 trucks blocking the Brnjak and Jarinje border crossings for ten days. At that time, an EU-brokered agreement to introduce temporary registration de-escalated the tensions. On Aug. 1, the NATO Mission in Kosovo (KFOR) issued a statement reiterating its preparedness to intervene in defense of regional stability. As a result, the government in Pristina has postponed the implementation of the new regulations until Sept. 1, adding that the two border crossings have reopened to traffic. As Kosovo continues to denounce Serbian sovereignty in the northern regions, additional protests organized by Kosovo Serbs are likely ahead of the Sept. 1 implementation deadline.