By Michael Knights Washington Institute for Near East Policy
In any other country, the detonation of 15 car bombs in a capital city on Monday and the dozens of resultant deaths would have been an unprecedented event.
But in Iraq, it was fairly unremarkable – the 38th such “spectacular” in the last 12 months.
As the country enters its 10th year in a state of deep security crisis, it is worth exploring the factors that sustain the conflict and the violent actors who frustrate the daily efforts of the Iraqi security forces.
To start with, Iraq is arguably experiencing two separate but interwoven security crises.
Experts differentiate between the “al-Qaeda stream” of mass-casualty attacks and what might be called a “normal insurgency” undertaken by local-level Sunni and Shia militant cells.
The international media pays most attention to the former because co-ordinated, multiple location car bombings are highly visible – as al-Qaeda’s local affiliates intend them to be.
And the incidence of spectacular attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) and other al-Qaeda affiliates is accelerating.
In 2010, the low point for the al-Qaeda effort in Iraq, car bombings declined to an average of 10 a month and multiple-location attacks occurred only two or three times a year.
In 2013, so far there has been an average of 68 car bombings a month and a multiple-location strike every 10 days.
The UN says 5,740 civilians have been killed since January – almost double the figure it reported for the whole of 2010.