The attacks, spread across 13 cities and more than 40 locations, targeted mostly Shiite neighborhoods and appeared to be the work of al-Qaeda in Iraq, a militant Sunni group. The carnage included an assault on a military base with guns and grenades, a car bombing in a Shiite vegetable market and a suicide bombing by an assailant who detonated his explosives in a crowd of police officers rushing to help Iraqis injured in earlier bomb blasts.
Although Iraq typically sees a spike in violence during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began last week, Monday’s attacks were among the most coordinated that the country has seen in the past several years.
“The size and frequency of these attacks tells me that al-Qaeda is returning and reestablishing networks in Iraq,” said retired Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who oversaw the training of Iraqi forces in 2008. “Things in Iraq are definitely not fine.”
So far more than 570 Iraqis have been killed in major attacks this year, a significant uptick in violence in the wake of the U.S. departure from the country.
Over the weekend, the leader of Iraq’s al-Qaeda affiliate warned that the network was returning to its old strongholds and put out an open call for new recruits to launch attacks against the Shiite-led government and its security forces.
“The majority of Sunnis in Iraq support al-Qaeda and are waiting for its return,” said Abu Bakr al Baghdad, head of the Islamic State of Iraq since 2010. His statement was posted on a militant Web site.
Although U.S. intelligence officials concede that al-Qaeda has been able to exploit the departure of U.S. troops, they said they see no evidence that the group has been able to win over disaffected Sunnis in key strongholds such as Iraq’s Anbar province, which was the heart of the Sunni insurgency from 2003 to 2008.