THE day after Iraq's Al Qaeda affiliate warned that it was readying for a new offensive, a new offensive came. The co-ordinated attacks - around 30 in total - shattered the government narrative that the terror group has been defeated.
It follows two other choreographed strikes in the last six weeks that showed the ease with which bombers, assassins and their enablers can plot carnage in Iraq, more than seven months since US forces withdrew.
The group known as the Islamic State of Iraq is clearly the prime culprit. Its warning ahead of the attack suggests that it is not trying to hide its role as a re-emerging force. Years of being battered by US and Iraqi forces have not diminished the group's resolve to wreak sectarian havoc and again become the lethal, pervasive influence it was from 2004 until early 2007.
The attacks were centred near the heartland the group carved for itself during those bloody years - a swathe of Iraq north of Baghdad, which an Islamic State of Iraq member said last week the group was trying to reclaim. By mid-afternoon bombings and shootings had spread throughout the centre of the country and to Baghdad itself, both also flashpoint areas in the insurgency that took centre stage during Iraq's sectarian war.
The attacks were over before noon, seemingly to capitalise on the slow start to the day in Iraq during Ramazan, when Muslims fast.
Viewed in isolation, the attacks are serious enough: the destabilising effect on a country that shows few signs of overcoming deep distrust among its Shias, Sunnis and Kurds is worrying. So too the fact that the postwar hope — the unifying influence of the state — has been unable to stop a multi-city slaughter.
However, when seen through the prism of the rest of the region's woes, the latest events take on an even more serious perspective.
Neighbouring Syria is fast sliding towards full-blown war, with a real risk of a sectarian spillover into a region that has seen hardening sectarian positions in all corners for the last 18 months.
Like Iraq in 2002, Syria now is a dictatorship cemented by minority rule, with power drawn mostly from one sect that rules over a restive majority.
Unlike Iraq, however, Syria's Sunnis have a lot to gain if the Shia-aligned Alawite sect loses power and influence. Although the uprising in Syria has for the most part been driven by a Sunni population tired of life under the boot of dictatorship, there are growing questions about whether an Islamic extremist element that exists on the sidelines could manoeuvre itself to centre stage.
Al Qaeda's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has made no secret of his view that the Syrian uprising marks an opportunity for the group and its offshoots, who see the Arab spring revolutions as a chance to get one up on the Shias.
The Islamic State of Iraq clearly agrees with him. Intelligence officials in Iraq, Britain and the US believe that some battle-hardened global jihad fighters have crossed from Iraq into Syria — ironically using the same routes that fellow militants used to use when crossing the other way.
Subversive groups such as Al Qaeda thrive in a vacuum. And whether by design or through the inevitable bedlam that the collapse of rigid order brings, a vacuum is fast becoming a major concern.
“I will not let this be their moment,” a senior Iraqi intelligence official said on Sunday (July 22). “They will not win here or in Syria. We can't afford to let them get their hands on things again.”
By arrangement with the Guardian