by Amar Toor and Carl Franzen

Less than four years after the withdrawal of American troops, Iraq is once again descending into chaos and violence. Islamist insurgents from an al-Qaeda breakaway group have seized large swaths of northern Iraq, and are marching toward Baghdad. The unrest has inflamed deep-seated sectarian divides between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq, resulting in widespread deaths. According to estimates from the United Nations, more than 1,075 people have been killed in Iraq this month, more than any month this year. It’s also raised the specter of another US-led military intervention amid fears that parts of Iraq and Syria could become a new hotbed of terrorist activity.

“It is in our national security interests not to see an all-out civil war inside of Iraq, not just for humanitarian reasons, but because that ultimately can be destabilizing throughout the region,” President Barack Obama told reporters on Thursday, adding that Iraq must not become a “safe haven” for terrorists who may target the US.

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad yesterday to meet with embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, though there is no clear political resolution in sight, and the militants have shown no sign of relenting. The challenge for the US, then, is to somehow stabilize Iraq and neutralize the insurgents without dragging itself back into war.