The United States is reportedly increasing the number of intelligence officers deployed to Iraq amidst new waves of violence there being attributed to jihadists from the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
On Friday, Reuters reported that the Pentagon has sent an entire team of high-level American intelligence agents abroad in order to investigate reports of growing insurgency, citing two current and one former US officials familiar with the matter.
The officials, Reuters claimed, believe the ISIL “now boasts territorial influence stretching from Iraq's western Anbar province to northern Syria.”
An Al-Qaeda offshoot, the ISIL has for years been working towards imposing Sharia law in the parts of Iraq that are typically Sunni-majority regions. In recent days, however, those efforts have been linked to grave acts of violence that have killed dozens just over the weekend.
By Saturday, the Associated Press had reported that the ISIL was claiming responsibility for a bombing one day earlier that left no fewer than six people dead. The following day, ISIL was attributed with taking the lives of 33 after an attack was waged at a political rally for a hardline Shiite group known as Asaib Ahl Al-Haq.
"The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant considers the Asaib Ahl al-Haq as its enemy and that's an honor for us," the leader of the Shiite group — Qais Al-Khazali— said at a news conference, according to the AP. "Our blood will not have been shed in vain and what happened will not go unpunished."
But as Iraq prepares for its first elections next week since the withdrawal of American troops in 2011, further violence is likely to be seen in the coming days — once again calling into question the effectiveness of the lengthy US-led military mission there that was touted as spreading democracy, not disruptions.
According to Reuters, around 100 US military personnel have remained in Iraq since the formal exit two years ago, but now an unknown number of intel agents have been deployed there to try and determine what could arise next if fighting between groups continues.
Government sources who spoke of the deployment to Reuters declined to be identified, and a spokesperson for the White House did not respond to the agency’s requests for comment. One source told Reuters that senior US policy officials met in Washington, DC last week to discuss further action in the region, but was not sure of the outcome of the meeting.
In a separate report published over the weekend, AP journalists wrote that the United Nations believes fighting in Iraq last year claimed some 8,868 people — a tally that hasn’t been seen since the height of the US-fought war there that ended in 2011. According to the UN, more than 1,400 people have been killed in Iraq during the first two months of 2014, and violence has only intensified in recent weeks.
Ned Parker — Reuters’ Baghdad bureau chief — told National Public Radio over the weekend that the latest events are likely only a sampling of what could be seen in Iraq next.
“Iraqis are anticipating violence. What happened on Friday, the bombing at the Asaib Ahl Al-Haw political rally, was really a warning, an omen of what could happen. The government has declared a week holiday for the elections and there will be a curfew. But even in 2010, the day of elections, there were bombs all over Baghdad,” Parker recalled.