The Islamic State of Iraq, an Iraqi group linked to Al Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for a Monday barrage of attacks reported to have killed at least 115 people across the country.
The message, issued on extremist forums Tuesday, said the bombings and shootings were linked to a new campaign announced by its leader, Abu Bakr Baghdadi, last week to reassert its power in Iraq.
It claimed that foreign media had under-reported the attacks’ effect by "reducing the results of these operations and slandering the image of their perpetrators," according to a monitoring service.
The attacks made Monday the deadliest day in Iraq in more than two years, according to the Associated Press. Even before its Tuesday message was issued, the Al Qaeda-affiliated group was widely believed by outside experts and Western officials to be behind the offensive.
Al Qaeda in Iraq "are making desperate efforts to call on Sunnis to turn against their government," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday. "They’re going to fail."
The offensive comes as tension between Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims in Iraq has intensified, a turn that extremists could exploit to gain footing there. Shiites leading the government have accused a top Sunni official of terrorism charges; he and his allies say the case is purely political.
"When the political process doesn’t work well in Iraq, people take to the streets to voice their dissent. I think that’s what’s happening now," Boot said. "Maliki’s power grab is creating an opening for Al Qaeda to come back."
Boot said the attacks showed that the U.S. should have kept troops in Iraq longer to stabilize the country. Others argue that the U.S. actually fomented the sectarian divide during and after the war, planting the seeds for the violence erupting today.
"Putting this all on Al Qaeda as if it’s separate from the legacy of what the U.S. left behind in Iraq is a big mistake," said Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Iraqis inspect the aftermath of a late-night car bombing Monday near a cafe in the Amin neighborhood in east Baghdad. Credit: Khalid Mohammed / Associated Press