Author: Heba Bawaieh (Vienna Master of Human Rights) 


Attacks on critical infrastructure, such as dams, transportation, energy, markets, government, and many other that represent private or public large investments are considered ‘vulnerable targets’[1] to terrorist attacks. Many states rely on critical infrastructure for economic development and providing mass services to their citizens. Therefore, an attack against such targets fulfills the agenda of terrorist groups to destabilize the function of an essential operating system, weaken the economy, threaten national security, and/or cause maximum deaths and injuries.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) has a history of attacking and capturing critical infrastructure in Iraq and using them as a tool to generate enormous amounts of profit to expand. The United Nations (UN) estimates the revenues of ISIL gained from oil in 2015 ranged between $400 million and $500 million. Those attacks are also used as a weapon to control and harm both the population and the State. Between 2013 and 2015, ISIL blocked water pipes in a predominately Christian town in Iraq, cut off water to Mosul, contaminated drinking water in Salahaddin Governorate, controlled dams, and targeted modes of transportation and markets due to their high concertation of people[2].

Despite the government of Iraq announcing its victory against ISIL in 2017[3], the insurgent attacks of ISIL has alarmingly increased in the following years. Between 2018 and 2019, ISIL carried out an estimated 3,139 attacks and an additional 556 attacks in the first quarter of 2020[4]. A UN report determined that ISIL held $100 million of reserves in 2020. These numbers indicate the regrouping of ISIL and their reasserting under a new leader[5].

On Monday, 18 January 2021, a power transmission station in the Jalula area of Diyala province was bombed by insurgents. According to Iraq’s electricity ministry, the damages amounted to $4.1 million[6] and officials blamed ISIL for the bombing[7]. On Thursday, 21 January 2021, a double terrorist attack on a market located in the centre of Baghdad was carried out by ISIL[8], resulting in the death of at least 32 and injuring of at least 110, whereas the last attack in the city took place in the same location in 2018, causing the death of 35 people[9].

On 13 February 2017, the Security Council adopted resolution 2341 (2017) on the protection of critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks[10]. The resolution called upon Member States to assess vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure before an attack occurs and to be prepared for such attacks against critical infrastructure. The international community has also developed mechanisms and instruments to protect critical infrastructure such as INTERPOL Major Event Support Team (IMEST)[11] and INTERPOL Incident Response Team (IRT)[12], UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/58/199 on “Creation of a global culture of cybersecurity and the protection of critical information infrastructures”[13] and many other international efforts devoted to protect critical infrastructure on a regional or/and international scale.

The protection of critical infrastructure is a complicated process that requires coordination among national law enforcement and justice officials with the support of the international community. The State has the obligation to protect its citizens from terrorism, but inevitably some terrorist attacks will succeed. The crucial step is the immediate and first response to aid victims and prevent cascading effects.


Internship information:

  • Name of the organization: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
  • Short description of UNODC: UNODC assists Member States to combat drugs, organized crime, corruption, terrorism, strengthening criminal justice systems and promotes for international peace and security.
  • Intern’s department: Terrorism Prevention Branch – MENA.
  • Intern’s tasks:
  • Conducting research on criminal justice aspects of terrorism prevention and on specific counter-terrorism related thematic areas;
  • Conducting background research and analysis on country situations, trends and concepts relating to terrorist groups and organized crime;
  • Contributing to the elaboration of background documents, presentations, briefing notes, summaries, talking points and speeches;
  • Assisting in the preparation for training material of national and regional technical assistance capacity building workshops, meetings, high-level events and conferences.