By Jon Harper
Copyright 2014 Stars and Stripes
WASHINGTON — Brett McGurk, the Deputy Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, told lawmakers Wednesday that he anticipates more high-profile attacks in Iraq as an al-Qaida-linked group grows in power.
The latest suicide and vehicle-borne bombings in Baghdad killed at least 34 people and wounded dozens more Wednesday, according to several reports.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but they bear the signature of al-Qaida’s former affiliate in Iraq. The group — which calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — became resurgent following the withdrawal of American troops and the emergence of a large-scale insurgency in neighboring Syria. ISIL has taken over the city of Fallujah, which was the scene of bloody battles between insurgents and U.S. troops during the height of the Iraq War.
The attacks Wednesday are just the latest example of escalating violence and the growing strength of jihadists. There were only a handful of suicide bombings each month at the end of 2012, but in 2013 ISIL carried out an average of 30 to 40 suicide bombings each month; in December that number rose to 50, according to McGurk.
Nearly 8,000 civilians and 1,000 Iraqi security force members were killed in violent attacks in Iraq last year, according to the United Nations, although not all of those deaths are attributable to ISIL.
It was the deadliest year in Iraq since 2008.
McGurk told lawmakers that he anticipates more attacks like the ones carried out Wednesday, especially suicide attacks by foreigners coming into Iraq through Syria.
“I think ISIL is going to maintain its pace of operations and continue to be a very serious threat,” he said.