It's getting ugly in Iraq again, less than two weeks from the scheduled March 7 election. And the U.S. military is hinting that if conditions deteriorate, the United States might delay its planned drawdown of forces.
How ugly is it? Mass killings, beheadings, dumped bodies, rockets hitting the Green Zone. Here's the rundown from the New York Times' summary of events:
"A series of bombings, beheadings and shootings rippled through Iraq on Monday, leaving at least 23 people dead -- including 9 children -- and intensifying concern about a spike in violence with less than two weeks until national elections.
"Authorities detected no discernible pattern to the violence, with rockets exploding in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, car bombings aimed at government buildings, assassinations of security officers and government officials and the killings of two families in their homes in Baghdad.
"The slayings of the families was reminiscent of the attacks common during the height of the bloodletting between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq a few years ago.
"In the largely Shiite town of Madaen, south of Baghdad, a gang of gunmen stormed a home of a family and killed all eight people there, including six children.
"'The criminals have beheaded some of the victims,' according to a brief statement from Baghdad Operations Command.
"In another Shiite district in Baghdad, a mother and her three children were gunned down in the middle of the night, according to government officials.
"Meanwhile, police found two bodies riddled with bullets dumped in the street of the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, according to Iraqi officials.
"The rocket attacks on the Green Zone wounded six people, according to Iraqi officials, but neither American nor Iraqi officials would provide details about where precisely they struck. An official at the American Embassy said there were no reports of Westerners injured.
"Two mortar rounds landed near a complex that had been used as Saddam Hussein's central security directorate in eastern Baghdad, near an American base, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.
"In northern Baghdad, gunmen carried out a drive-by shooting of a convoy of officials working for the Ministry of Defense and killed two people. Separately, a police officer and a civilian were injured when gunmen open fired on their parked vehicles.
"West of Baghdad, in the city of Ramadi, a suicide car bomber targeting a police garrison killed three people and injured seven.
"Several Iraqi police and army checkpoints in the city of Mosul were attacked by gunmen, killing four officers, according to Iraqi officials."
Meanwhile, General Odierno, the US commander in Iraq, suggests that the withdrawal timetable proposed by President Obama might slip:
"The top U.S. commander in Iraq said Monday that the planned withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces by the end of August could be delayed if conditions worsen in the coming months as Iraqis choose a new government.
"Army Gen. Ray Odierno said his staff had drawn up contingency plans for a delayed withdrawal that he has shared with Pentagon leaders and other U.S. officials during a visit to Washington over the past week. He said he was prepared to make the changes 'if we run into problems.'"
The election is still underway, but the main Sunni party, the National Dialogue Front, has pulled out of the vote after its leader, Saleh al-Mutlaq, was banned from running for reelection by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iranian-backed clique that controls the vetting process. The NDF statement read, in part:
"The National Dialogue Front cannot continue in a political process run by a foreign agenda."
The NDF's partner, the broad-based Iraqiya coalition led by Iyad Allawi, the secular Shia who was prime minister in the first post-invasion government, is continuing to campaign. According to most reports from Iraq, secular voters and Sunnis are determined to vote for candidates who are closest to their views and who oppose Iran's interference. And so far, the violence hasn't led to anything resembling the all-out sectarian conflict that plagued Iraq three years ago.