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There's So Much Violence In Iraq The Tragedy Has Become Easy To Ignore

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In late November, Prashant Rao, the Baghdad bureau chief for Agence France-Presse, found himself with a terrible, familiar problem. The daily story he had to write on the news in Iraq -- a typical one by that country's standards, full of death and mayhem -- contained so many violent incidents that he simply didn't have room to mention them all.

So he took to Twitter.

There, over a series of 17 tweets, Rao laid out each of the individual attacks from that single day. In Abu Ghraib, a roadside bomb at a market killed one and wounded five; in Tikrit, police found the bodies of seven maintenance workers on a soccer field, with their throats slit; in Diyala, a man was shot dead in front of his home; and on and on.

In all, 52 people were killed on Nov. 29, by the AFP's count -- which varies slightly from the numbers tallied by other groups, such as the United Nations and the Iraqi government.

It wasn't even a particularly bloody day. Nearly two years after the American military withdrew fully and the American public all but washed its hands of a decade of devastating history, the violence in Iraq has grown to staggering levels.

Already, as many as 8,700 people have been killed this year, according to the diligent tallies of IraqBodyCount. One recent survey put the Iraq War's toll, since the start of the U.S. invasion, at nearly 460,000 people -- some 275,000 from acts of violence.

Death toll records fall with unsettling regularity. This past July, by some counts, was the most violent month in the country since 2008, with around 1,000 casualties -- that is, until October, when casualties climbed even higher. October saw an average of more than 32 killings per day.

Some days have been much, much worse. May 18 of this year, by one tally, was the deadliest in eight months, with 76 deaths. Then came July 23, with 110 -- the deadliest in two years.

In an effort to highlight the ongoing catastrophe in Iraq, The Huffington Post has compiled an interactive infographic on major incidents of violence across the country over the past several months. Sourced to various media outlets and IraqBodyCount.org, the data map how civilian deaths have surged since the spring of 2013. Use the map to find the location of every major bombing since the spring -- incidents that have claimed the lives of 2,600 people.

It's easy to say that two years after the last American soldier left the country, the U.S. can hardly be faulted for what's become of Iraq. It's just as easy to pin the blame for Iraq's spiral into violent chaos directly on the hasty withdrawal of the U.S. military at the end of 2011, as many opponents of the Obama administration's policy have done.

But analysts say both approaches are far too simplistic.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite-led Cabinet have mounted a campaign of power aggrandizement and delegitimization that has led to the disenfranchisement and frustration of Sunnis and their political leaders, said Ayham Kamel, an analyst with the Eurasia Group. Meanwhile, the war in Syria just next door has encouraged the proliferation of jihadists and radical groups in Iraq's more remote areas. And the Iraqi national military and intelligence services have failed to live up to the far more professional standards and capabilities of America's own trillion-dollar campaign.

"I don't think the U.S. withdrawal alone can be blamed for the rise in violence in Iraq," Kamel said. "It's more an intel problem and a governance problem and a problem with the situation in Syria."

Yet that doesn't mean the U.S. bears no responsibility for what is happening in Iraq.

As Joost R. Hiltermann, a leading Iraq expert with the International Crisis Group, told HuffPost recently, the roots of Iraq's current violence can be traced back to the initial U.S. invasion.

"Violence in Iraq is possible today because of Iraq's inability -- so far -- to fill the security vacuum that was created when the U.S. dismantled the former regime's security apparatus, including the entire army," Hiltermann said.

Add to that corruption, pervasive sectarian tensions and the chaos in Syria, he said, and you end up with the perfect conditions for terrible bloodshed.

The sheer numbers are so overwhelming that they can become numbing. Indeed, days in which 40 people are killed have become so commonplace, Rao said, that they often don't draw anything more than a simple mention in a wire report.

Countering that, Rao said, is a daily challenge. It's also why he used Twitter to enumerate every attack that November day -- a project that was so onerous he would hardly have time to perform the rest of his job if he tried to repeat it on a regular basis.

"This has been this pattern of violence that's become almost normal, and in ways that are shocking," said Rao. "It's harder and harder to get people interested in the news. So we're just trying to be creative and look for new ways to humanize the story -- to say, sure, 40 or 50 people might be dying every day, but each of these are individual incidents. These are human beings. Every incident has a ripple effect on the entire community, the entire society."

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