“What you’re really looking at here is a kind of zombie insurgency – it’s been brought back to life,” said Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who has studied Iraq for years and travels there frequently.
Saddled with Middle East problems ranging from Iran to Syria and beyond, President Barack Obama now faces one that is both old and new: Iraq.
Unresolved sectarian tensions, inflamed by the raging civil war in neighboring Syria, have combined to send violence in Iraq to its highest level since Obama withdrew the last U.S. troops in December 2011, U.S. officials and Middle East analysts say.
A Sunni Muslim insurgency against the Shi’ite-led Baghdad government has also been reawakened. The insurgents’ defeat had been a major outcome of then-President George W. Bush’s troop “surge” in 2007.
The deteriorating situation – largely overshadowed by a Syrian civil war that has killed 80,000 people – has prompted what U.S. officials describe as an intense, mostly behind-the-scenes effort to curb the violence and get Iraqis back to political negotiations.
The United States spent hundreds of billions of dollars and lost nearly 4,500 soldiers during an eight-year war to try to bring a semblance of democracy to strategically placed, energy-rich Iraq.
But Iraqis have failed to agree on a permanent power-sharing agreement, threatening the country’s long-term stability.
Vice President Joe Biden, who has been Obama’s point man on Iraq, called Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and Osama Nujayfi, the head of Iraq’s parliament, in a round of calls on Thursday and Friday, the White House said.