Iraq has experienced a surge in violence since US troops left the country last month, with 327 people dying in explosions or assassinations by the Iraqi Ministry's official count. Bombings have hit Baghdad neighborhoods, Shiite pilgrims, and Sunni police, among other targets. "They are not arbitrary attacks. They are sending messages that security is not under control," one Baghdad analyst tells the Washington Post. In part, they reflect the sectarian political crisis that erupted as soon as the US left.
Sunni insurgents are trying to capitalize on that crisis to position themselves as a major force in Iraq. "The message is this: 'While the Sunni political parties are bullied by Maliki, the Sunni insurgents are asserting Sunni claims to power,'" one Iraqi expert explains. The US had handed over security to Iraqi forces long before exiting, but its departure was a psychological boost for insurgents now looking to launch a full-scale war. "What changed is a mindset," says one Defense Department consultant. "The US was now definitely gone. Therefore, all bets are off." (Read more Iraq stories.)