The dangerous outburst of violence in Iraq this week has been blamed on Al Qaida by government sources, as more than 100 people died in 13 attacks, which were concentrated in Shiite neighbourhoods. But whether it was Al Qaida or any other militia or group, regardless of who placed the bombs, there is a clear intention to attack the Shiite community and possibly trigger a violent response. There are many ill-intentioned people who would welcome a return to the days of chaos and Iraq has to avoid the dangers of slipping back into sectarian strife and civil war.

This means that there has to be more overt backing for the process of governance and the existing structures, which is hard to achieve. What started as a fragile coalition run by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has become a much more authoritarian regime, which is now seen by many non-Shiites as favouring the Shiite community. This has started a serious review by many Sunni politicians of the original desire to see a strong and centralised state. They foresee many years of Shiite-dominated government and therefore have shifted to promote more devolution of power to provincial governments, along the lines of what the Kurds have already done in their provinces.

But it is important that any constitutional wrangling over where power should lie should not be seen as an excuse for violence. The security situation has never been good, although compared to the exceptional violence of the bitter years of civil war, things are obviously much better now. But this comparison masks the underlying threat of violence. The government has not done well in delivering basic services and the random supply cuts in water, electricity and telecommunications all add to the pervading sense of deep uncertainty in the country.

Iraq needs a period of sustained calm in which investment can take root and projects can start and be completed. Infrastructure needs to be built, businesses need to flourish and corruption has to be stopped. But above all, the country needs stable institutions.