al-Qaida ups the ante

With the pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq in December of 2011, the violence in the country was no longer a daily concern for most media outlets and Americans.

However, the fighting in Iraq never stopped and has only escalated, as shown by the advances of al-Qaida-backed rebels in the Iraqi cities of Falluja and Ramadi.

The United Nations reports more than 8,000 Iraqis have been killed in 2013 alone, the highest levels of violence since 2008, as bombings and shootings have ripped through outdoor markets, cafes and mosques.

The U.S. bears some responsibility for IraqÕs recent unrest. For one, the U.S. has failed to address Prime Minister Nuri al-MalikiÕs anti-Sunni policies. Maliki has consistently abused his power to support his Shiite agendas.

The Sunnis have predictably grown angry and bitter toward the central government as they have been systematically excluded from political and economic life.

This has given al-Qaida in Iraq, a Sunni group and al-Qaida affiliate, more support.

Secondly, the U.S. should have worked with Mr. Maliki to reach a deal that would have kept a small number of American troops in Iraq after 2011 to continue military training and intelligence gathering.

President Obama could have extended the military success achieved by the 2007 troop surge and prevented a major power vacuum in Iraq in which radical Islamists have flourished.

The Obama Administration has responded to the situation by pledging weapons and other military equipment to Iraqi forces, but this alone will not bring stability to the country.

In fact, it may further inflame violence, as it could signal to Sunnis that the U.S. is siding with Shiites.

Instead, the U.S. needs to place more emphasis on pressuring Mr. Maliki to work more cooperatively with Sunnis and ensure that upcoming parliamentary elections in April are free and fair.

Our failed policies in Iraq, and the resulting mess we have helped create, continue to impact in the region. American policy in the Middle East has turned Syria, Iraq and Lebanon into one large regional battlefield pitting Sunnis against Shiites.

While the recent recapture of Iraqi territory by al-Qaida affiliates may have come as a surprise to many Americans, violence or the threat of violence has always been a daily reality for Iraqis.