A wave of attacks across Iraq killed more than people Monday, and wounded about 300 others.
The violence began before dawn, with gunmen in speeding cars killing soldiers and police at checkpoints across Baghdad. The assailants used silencers, a new gangland-style twist to their attacks.
In the hours that followed, two bombs, also targeting police, exploded in the capital. Other blasts occurred outside the homes of policemen in Fallujah, west of Baghdad. A Fallujah resident said one of the houses destroyed belonged to a policeman killed two years ago and that the victims were family members. "What did they do?" he asked.
In the northern city Mosul, a suicide bomber exploded a car near a checkpoint guarded by national and Kurdish forces. Two blasts also rocked Suwayra, southeast of Baghdad. In the deadliest attack, two car bombs struck workers in Hilla, in central Iraq.
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, suspicion quickly fell on al-Qaida in Iraq as well as Sunni militants. In recent weeks, Iraqi and U.S. officials had announced several arrests and killings of top al-Qaida leaders. Authorities predicted the actions would weaken the local off-shoot of the terror network, arguing that support for the group had waned and replacing the leadership would be difficult.
Peter Harling, an Iraq specialist at the International Crisis Group in Damascus, countered that al-Qaida has shown a remarkable ability to replace its leaders. "It is a very decentralized movement," he said. "It is not hierarchic, so I do not think the arrests or the killings of its senior officials have ever had any impact, any significant impact on the movement."
Even as officials had tried to downplay the future al-Qaida threat, some had warned of a possible increase in Sunni-led violence. More than two months after inconclusive national elections, Sunnis are once again watching their chances of major representation in parliament appear to slip away.
The secular, Shi'ite-Sunni bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi took the most seats, but two more overtly Shi'ite groups are said to be close to forming a ruling coalition. Much of the horrific sectarian violence across Iraq in 2006 and 2007 was tied to Sunnis boycotting the last national elections and then being shut out of government.
Peter Harling said that, even two months after the vote, politicians are just at another phase of protracted negotiations. "Right now, there is a possibility indeed of a Shi'ite coalition, probably reaching out to the Kurds and to some Sunni elements as token representatives within the government." he said. "Another possible scenario is that this fragile Shi'ite alliance will simply fall apart over the difficulties of nominating a consensus prime minister."
The power vacuum is likely to continue for some time. Election results must be finalized before a government can be formed, the vote is being recounted.