More than two years after the withdrawal of US troops, al-Qaeda is once again back with vengeance.

2013 was the deadliest year for Iraqis in five years. More than 7,000 civilians lost their lives.

Al-Qaeda is no longer just engaged in hit-and-run attacks in Iraq. Over the past few weeks, its affiliates have controlled larges swathes of territory in Faluja and Ramadi, two pre-dominantly Sunni cities in Western Iraq. Its black Islamic flag flies over government buildings.

Against the backdrop of this violence is a years-long political deadlock among Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups that threaten the nation’s very territorial integrity.

Both Kurds and Sunni Arabs are frustrated with what they describe as Prime Minister Nuri Maliki’s unwillingness to share power, and threaten they might go their own way.

So with this degree of bloodshed and political gridlock, isn’t Iraq on the verge of collapse? Has not the emergence of a unified, pro-Western, and democratic Iraq become but a myth?

To discuss this subject, Rudaw's Namo Abdulla talks to Michael W S Ryan, an expert at the Middle East Institute, a foreign-policy think-tank in Washington. He previously held senior positions at the Department of State and the Pentagon. He's the author of "Decoding Al-Qaeda's Strategy: The Deep Battle Against America."

I’m also joined by Phyllis Bennis, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She also serves as an advisor to several United Nation’s officials. She's the author of "Ending the Iraq War."

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