Sectarian violence continued in Iraq on Monday as 16 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a cafe in the Shia-majority town of Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad.
The bombing is the continuation of an alarming upward trend in terrorist attacks in the country, especially during the last few months. This year's Ramadan holy month was especially bloody, with a reported 800 people killed in attacks. The majority of bombings occurred in cafes and marketplaces after sundown as people prepared to end their daily fast. Overall, the month of July was the deadliest in Iraq this year, with 875 dead and nearly 2,000 wounded in attacks. August has already seen 230 dead and 664 wounded.
On Saturday, 91 people were killed in bombings throughout the country as Iraqis celebrated the end of Ramadan. The State Department believes these bombings were carried out by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, however, a group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has claimed responsibility for the most recent attack.
The attacks in Iraq have had little effect on the United States since most of the soldiers stationed in the country have been withdrawn, save for a few thousand advisers and military contractors. In an alarming trend, cessation of U.S. operations has coincided with a rise in Sunni Islamist militants.
So what is causing such a turn in violence? One of the largest factors has to do with the escape of some 500 prisoners, including senior Al-Qaeda members, from the infamous Abu Ghraib prison over three weeks ago. The combination of the prison break and recharged Sunni opposition against the Shia-dominated central government has led to the daily suicide and car bombings.
Al-Jazeera has an extremely useful guide chronicling the wave of terror attacks that have blighted Iraq last month. An interesting explanation put forth by former UN envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler is that the violence in Iraq is interconnected to that in Syria. Iraq is a fault line between the Sunni and Shia parts of the Middle East, and whatever happens in Syria will manifest itself in Iraq as well.
The ISIL, according to the Al-Jazeera report, is using the experience in fighting in Syria to carry out attacks in neighboring Iraq, and the borderlands between the two countries are a constant source of tension. Sadly for those caught in the crossfire, short-term prospects for a cease fire are slim so long as conflict rages on across the border in Syria.