UPDATE: Since we first published this piece two weeks ago, embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki agreed (on August 15) -- after days of tense standoff that brought the possibility of a military coup -- to relinquish power and accept the nomination of Haider al-Abadi as the country's new leader. Abadi, also a Shiite, belongs to the same party as his predecessor. Additionally, on August 18, President Obama announced that Iraqi special forces and Kurdish fighters, backed by American war planes, had retaken a strategic dam near the northern city of Mosul, which had previously been captured by Islamic extremists.
Less than three years after the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Iraq is again in a state of crisis. In June, an extremist Islamic group swept through the north, taking control of Mosul, the second-largest city. And as tensions between Iraq's ethnic and religious groups reach a boiling point, the survival of the fractured country is at stake.
How did things get so bad? Cartoon journalist Andy Warner illustrates that the near-constant turmoil in Iraq isn't as shocking as it might seem; the current struggle has deep roots in the nation's embattled colonial past.
(Click images below to view as a slideshow)
Numbers and maps:
Good articles/books for more context