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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

USA TODAY July 28, 2006

Civil war or no civil war, things in Iraq are not good

By Richard Benedetto

WASHINGTON — With attacks in and around Baghdad on the upsurge over the past few weeks, the news media seem eager to label the escalation of killing in Iraq a "civil war."
"In Iraq, all but civil war declared," said a headline in the July 19 edition of the Los Angles Times.

"Sources: Negroponte Blocks CIA Analysis of Iraq 'Civil War,'" said a July 20 posting on the Harper's Magazine website.

"Maliki insists Iraq will not slide into civil war," said a July 24 Reuters dispatch.

But can we call the fighting in Iraq a civil war?

That depends on how you define the term.

In its broadest definition, a civil war is a war fought between people of the same country.

Using that criterion, the war in Iraq might be called a civil war. Iraqis are fighting Iraqis, although some of the attacks are on American troops there. And some of the fighters are Arab foreigners.

But under a narrower, more technical definition, it might not meet the test.

GlobalSecurity.org — an online source of military information — defines "civil war" this way:

"A civil war is a war between factions of the same country. There are five criteria for international recognition of this status: The contestants must control territory, have a functioning government, enjoy some foreign recognition, have identifiable regular armed forces and engage in major military operations."

Under this definition, the war in Iraq does not qualify for "international recognition" as a civil war on several points.

•The insurgents do not control territory.

•The insurgents have no functioning government. They are mostly members of religious factions.

•The insurgents do not have "identifiable regular armed forces." Many are civilian suicide bombers or armed civilian attackers who don't wear uniforms and blend into the citizenry.

•The insurgents don't engage in major military operations; they make sporadic attacks, mostly against civilians rather than directly against armed troops of the government.

When Americans think of civil war, they mostly think of the one that occurred here in 1861-65. Southern states seeking to become independent from the federal union, fought government troops in bloody battles, mostly in the South. More than 200,000 troops on both sides were killed in action and another 400,000 died from diseases, starvation and other causes.

What's happening in Iraq has not quite reached that level of combat or casualties. Most of those dying are civilians, not military. About 14,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the first six months of this year. Around 2,600 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began.

But whether we call the hostilities in Iraq a civil war, or whether we refer to them as ongoing violence, the fact remains that nearly 3 1/2 years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, things are not going well there.

It was all too evident last Tuesday when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited with President Bush at the White House and met with reporters. Bush, proclaiming conditions in the Iraqi capital "terrible," announced a plan to shift more U.S. troops to Baghdad from other points in the country to beef up Iraqi forces beset by a surge of attacks in and around the city.

"Our strategy is to remain on the offense, including in Baghdad," Bush said.

Then, trying to put a more positive face on the obvious setback, he added, "We still face challenges in Baghdad. Yet, we see progress elsewhere in Iraq."

But with this latest shift in strategy, it would seem clear that the Pentagon might have to table plans to start bringing some troops home by the end of the year, civil war or no civil war.

Copyright 2006, USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.