Al Qaeda drives Iraq toward chaos; U.S. withdrawal left door open to sectarian battle for power

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Security inside Iraq is unraveling at an alarming pace, and al Qaeda terrorists there aren’t just pulling the thread; they’re setting it on fire.

More than 1,000 Iraqis were killed in bombings and shootings last month, making July the deadliest month since violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims peaked from 2006 to 2008, the United Nations says.

On Thursday, gunmen stormed a policeman’s home in Tikrit and killed him, his wife and their three children. When neighbors later approached the house, a nearby car bomb exploded and killed eight people — a noted al Qaeda tactic, though the terrorist group has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

In the past week alone, more than 85 Iraqis have been gunned down or blown up.

“We are certainly seeing a rise of al Qaeda in Iraq,” said Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Jessica Lewis, a research director at the Institute for the Study of War, said in a recent report that al Qaeda in Iraq is “now setting the terms of battle in Iraq for the first time since 2006.”

Iraq’s slide toward chaos began in the aftermath of the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops, who had mostly secured the country after its eruption of sectarian violence.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, predominantly Sunni extremists, has claimed responsibility for scores of deadly attacks in its long-running efforts to disrupt the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Its insurgency is part of a trend in which the global terrorist network’s affiliates have asserted themselves throughout the Arab world.

This week, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the American consulates in the Iraqi cities of Basra and Erbil were among more than two dozen U.S. diplomatic facilities in the Middle East, Asia and Africa that were closed because of concerns about an imminent terrorist attack. The facilities in Iraq reopened Monday.

“The growing Sunni rebellion in Iraq has fueled the resurgence [of al Qaeda in Iraq], as has the fact that the U.S. isn’t there providing intelligence, backstopping the Iraqi security forces or continuing to train and keep up their skill levels,” said Kenneth Katzman, an analyst of Middle Eastern affairs at the Congressional Research Service.

An Iraqi Embassy spokesman in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Prison break

The deteriorating security in Iraq comes as no surprise to Middle East observers and analysts. Retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, when he commanded U.S. operations in Iraq, predicted such a decline when he testified before Congress in September 2007, saying that a “premature drawdown of our forces would likely have devastating consequences.”

Gen. Petraeus testified that “a rapid withdrawal would result in the rapid deterioration of local security initiatives, Al Qaeda-Iraq regaining lost ground and freedom of maneuver, a marked increase in violence and further ethno-sectarian displacement and refugee flows, alliances of convenience by Iraqi groups with internal and external forces to gain advantages over their rivals, and exacerbation of already challenging regional dynamics, especially with respect to Iran.”

U.S. forces withdrew quickly from Iraq in December 2011 after Washington and Baghdad failed to reach an agreement on the legal status of American troops in the country.

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About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.

 

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