A series of bomb blasts in Iraq killed at least 42 people on Sunday, but the story could have been ripped from last week’s papers (12 killed) or those from two weeks ago (51 killed) or repeatedly from the month of September (979 killed). Iraqis have not seen death tolls this high since the 2008 insurgency. “It seems like al-Qaeda is running the country,” one government employee told the Associated Press.
Since American troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011, al-Qaeda has freed hundreds of militants by attacking prisons. These jail breaks, the ability to recruit young Iraqi men and the security vacuum in neighboring Syria are believed to have helped the group’s revival from the handful of small cells it was reduced to in 2009.
One Iraqi officials says al-Qaeda commands some 3,000 fighters in the country, with around 100 members prepared to undertake suicide missions. The group’s leader, Abu Bakr, is thought to have ordered dozens of attacks per week in a bid to destabilize Iraq’s Shiite-led government.
According to Jessica Lewis, the author of a new study on al-Qaeda published by the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War, the Sunni militant group has become a “professional military force” now capable of making “synchronized and complex attacks in Iraq.”