The United States is quietly rushing dozens of Hellfire missiles and low-tech surveillance drones to Iraq to help government forces combat an explosion of violence by a Qaida-backed insurgency that is gaining territory in both western Iraq and neighboring Syria.
The move follows an appeal for help in battling the extremist group by the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who met with President Obama in Washington last month.
But some military experts question whether the patchwork response will be sufficient to reverse the sharp downturn in security that already led to the deaths of more than 8,000 Iraqis this year, 952 of them Iraqi security force members, according to the United Nations, the highest level of violence since 2008.
Al-Qaida’s regional affiliate, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has become a potent force in northern and western Iraq. Riding in armed convoys, the group has intimidated towns, assassinated local officials, and in an episode last week, used suicide bombers and hidden explosives to kill the commander of the Iraqi Army’s Seventh Division and more than a dozen of his officers and soldiers as they raided a Qaida training camp near Rutbah.
Bombings on Christmas in Christian areas of Baghdad, which killed more than two dozen people, bore the hallmarks of a Qaida operation.
The surge in violence stands in sharp contrast to earlier assurances from senior Obama administration officials that Iraq was on the right path, despite the failure of American and Iraqi officials in 2011 to negotiate an agreement for a limited number of United States forces to remain in Iraq…
Ayad Shaker, a police officer in Anbar, said that al-Qaida had replenished its ranks with a series of prison breakouts, and that the group had also grown stronger because of the limited abilities of Iraqi forces, the conflict in Syria and tensions between Maliki and the Sunnis.
Shaker said that three close relatives had been killed by al-Qaida and that he had been wounded by bombs the group had planted.
“I fought Al Qaida,” he said. “I am sad today when I see them have the highest authority in Anbar, moving and working under the sun without deterrent.”