On Monday night, terror descended on the Iraqi capital when gunmen and suicide bombers stormed a shopping mall in a busy, predominantly-Shia area, killing and wounding dozens of people and spreading panic among residents.

An even deadlier attack almost simultaneously killed at least 20 people in the beleaguered town of Muqdadiyah northeast of Baghdad. A bomb exploded at a cafe, and a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle after people gathered at the scene.

The series of attacks that were claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, was the nightmare scenario that intelligence and security experts have been warning against as peace and stability remain fragile in Iraq.

And, like all bad news, more tragic events followed fast. At least seven Sunni mosques and dozens of shops were firebombed and 10 people were shot and killed in Muqdadiyah the next day in what appeared to be retaliatory sectarian attacks.


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For Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the bombings were "a desperate" move by ISIL after "victory [was] achieved" through the retaking of the key western city of Ramadi from the group.

Despite a number of military setbacks across Iraq in the past year, ISIL's manpower and their ability to carry out attacks do not seem to be waning.

However, what the escalation indicates is that the prospect of the total defeat of ISIL remains far off. ISIL's decentralised networks in Iraq seem to have become more decentralised and still capable of carrying out large-scale attacks.

There are two sets of factors that explain why the group remains the most significant threat to Iraq: First, its adaptation to new circumstances and methods, and second, the failure of Iraq's political elite to end the country's paralysis.

What accounts for ISIL's ongoing effectiveness in the face of unprecedented onslaught? The answer lies in the group's ever-changing nature. Since its inception as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the organisation has shown a surprising readiness to adapt its mission and tactics.

The group's capacity for change is manifested by its ability to be more appealing to recruits and attract new allies, making it harder to find and destroy.

Despite a number of military setbacks across Iraq in the past year, ISIL's manpower and their ability to carry out attacks do not seem to be waning.

The ongoing attacks in Baghdad and other urban centres are the work of enormous sleeper cells adopting new techniques that make them hard to detect.

As for the political deadlock, this week's violence has confirmed that the country's stabilisation will depend largely on resolving its lingering communal conflicts and establishing an all-inclusive, power-sharing process to replace the current dysfunctional ethnic and sect-based quota system.

Much of ISIL's recruitment comes from disgruntled Iraqi Sunni Muslims who feel excluded and marginalised. Without fair and effective political representation, many feel that they are left with few alternatives for addressing their grievances and resort to joining violent groups like ISIL.


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Iraq's security problems also have some roots in the Shia militias, which are making a bad situation worse.

The militias, which were supposedly created and expanded to fight ISIL, are now assuming more power.

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The militias' rise in political stature and their increasing role in policing neighbourhoods are undermining the security establishment and weakening its resolve to carry out its duties and fight terrorism.

This precarious security situation has worsened communal violence and criminality. Armed clashes between tribes and attacks by armed groups - which include murder, kidnapping for ransom, rape and other violent crimes - are now widespread.

For months, residents in Iraq's main port city of Basra have been complaining of pervasive lawlessness as armed tribesmen fight one another over economic interests and influence.

In Baghdad and other cities, scenes of unidentified, bullet-riddled bodies strewn in the streets are normal sights.

Another bad omen for Iraq that could have far-reaching consequences for the country's stability is its faltering economy and financial crisis caused by plummeting oil prices.

The general assessment is that low oil prices are likely to persist, and given the fluid situation in Iraq, security could deteriorate to the point of chaos.

The government has halted spending and imposed sever austerity measures, including the elimination of jobs, higher taxes, and salary cuts for public servants and pensioners.

While the security forces will bear the brunt of the decline in revenues, cuts in spending will damage development and could be a precursor of worse things to come. The economic crisis has led to street protests, and emerging troubles are expected to add a new source of instability to the ISIL violence and Iraq's fractious sectarian system.

If anything, victory in the campaign again such violence will depend on whether Iraq's feuding factions can agree on an inclusive government and new national security forces that could defeat ISIL and make Iraq safe from the ongoing threat of terror attacks.

Source: Al Jazeera