Since the withdrawal of the last US combat troops from Iraq on December 18, 2012, a series of deadly attacks have threatened to plunge Iraq into renewed chaos.
Many armed groups that had challenged US forces were significantly pacified by the end of the military presence, but the US departure threatened fresh tensions between Sunnis and Shias, Kurds and Arabs, Muslims and Christians. Attacks since the US troops left have occurred in many different parts of the country, striking at the diverse Iraqi ethno-religious fabric and making it increasingly difficult to improve the nation's infrastructure, in shambles after almost a decade of war.
The political conflict has been ratcheted up by the Shia-led government's arrest warrant for Tareq al-Hashimi, the country's vice-president and most senior Sunni official, wanted on terrorism charges. A vote of no-confidence against Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni deupty prime minister and leader of the Iraqiya bloc, has also contributed to a political disorder, raising concerns that the surge in violence and an escalating political crisis might deteriorate into civil war.
While violence has dropped sharply since the heights of sectarian conflict in 2006-2007, attacks remain a sheer fact of daily life, with several hundred Iraqis killed each month. Prior to the US pullout, the average for 2011 was between 223 and 340 dead per month, depending on which statistics are used. For 2012, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) organisation reported 451 civilians dead in January, compared to 390 in January 2011, for which the Iraqi government had reported 210 dead.
IBC says 278 civilians were killed in February 2012 - more than that group's toll of 250 for February 2011, which the Iraqi government put at 160. The group also says 74 civilians have been killed in March thus far. In the captions below, click on hyperlinked dates for more information about major attacks since December 18.