Jailbreaks are common in Iraq, but the brazen assaults on the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Taji recently are in a class by themselves. The attacks freed perhaps as many as 800 militants, who are now sought by Interpol as a “major threat” to global security.

The attacks showed the fearsome and growing strength of Al Qaida in Iraq, seemingly on the decline only a few years ago. They also raised new questions about the effectiveness of Iraq’s authoritarian prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, as well as the stability of Iraq itself.

Al Qaida in Iraq, an affiliate of al-Qaida, waged a virulent insurgency that brought the country to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007, then suffered major defeats at the hands of Iraqi tribal groups and American troops. It has since rebounded and is believed largely responsible for a surge in daily bombings that killed an estimated 700 people in July.

The Abu Ghraib and Taji operations were synchronized and sophisticated.

Oddly, having spent so much money strengthening Iraq’s security forces, administration officials have said little, publicly or privately, about why in this case their investment failed so spectacularly.

Regional volatility, including the Syrian war and Iran, are compounding Iraq’s instability. The core problem, however, is Maliki, whose monopoly power and favoritism for his Shiite majority brethren over other groups have inflamed sectarian tensions. In particular, he never made good on promises to reintegrate minority Sunnis, banished from power after Saddam Hussein’s ouster, into the political and economic life of the country. This has made Al Qaida in Iraq and other insurgents more appealing to resentful Sunnis.

Administration officials, as they should, are working behind the scenes to calm political disputes among Maliki and Sunni and Kurdish leaders and to create better relations between Iraq and other countries in the region.

Absent a complete change of heart and approach by Maliki, however, Iraqis and their country will remain dangerously fractured.

— The New York Times, July 30

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