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It's a Civil War, Stupid
Washington Post
By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, November 27, 2006; 1:02 PM

After nearly four years of letting the Bush Administration set the terms of the national debate over Iraq, some major news organizations are finally calling the conflict there what it is: a civil war. The White House is howling in protest.

Here's what Matt Lauer announced on NBC's Today Show this morning: "As you know, for months now the White House has rejected claims that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated into civil war. And for the most part, news organizations, like NBC, have hesitated to characterize it as such. But, after careful consideration, NBC News has decided the change in terminology is warranted -- that the situation in Iraq, with armed militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas, can now be characterized as civil war." Here's some video of Lauer discussing the decision with retired general Barry McCaffrey.

NBC's First Read reports that the response was swift: "The White House is objecting this morning to descriptions of the Iraq conflict as a civil war. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, 'The violence is primarily centered around Baghdad and Baghdad security and the increased training of Iraqi Security Forces is at the top of the agenda when [Bush and Maliki] meet later this week.'"

NBC is not alone. Here's Solomon Moore writing in the Saturday Los Angeles Times: "Iraq's civil war worsened Friday as Shiite and Sunni Arabs engaged in retaliatory attacks after coordinated car bombings that killed more than 200 people in a Shiite neighborhood the day before."

Newsweek editor and columnist Fareed Zakaria writes: "We're in the middle of a civil war and are being shot at by both sides.

"There can be no more doubt that Iraq is in a civil war, in which leaders of both its main communities, Sunnis and Shiites, are fomenting violence. . . .

"To speak, as the White House deputy press secretary did last week, of 'terrorists . . . targeting innocents in a brazen effort to topple a democratically elected government' totally misses the reality of Iraq today. Who are the terrorists and who are the innocents?"

Edward Wong wrote in the Sunday New York Times: "In the United States, the debate over the term rages because many politicians, especially those who support the war, believe there would be domestic political implications to declaring it a civil war. They fear that an acknowledgment by the White House and its allies would be seen as an admission of a failure of President Bush's Iraq policy.

"They also worry that the American people might not see a role for American troops in an Iraqi civil war and would more loudly demand a withdrawal.

"But in fact, many scholars say the bloodshed here already puts Iraq in the top ranks of the civil wars of the last half-century. The carnage of recent days -- beginning with bombings on Thursday in a Shiite district of Baghdad that killed more than 200 people -- reinforces their assertion. . . .

"'It's stunning; it should have been called a civil war a long time ago, but now I don't see how people can avoid calling it a civil war,' said Nicholas Sambanis, a political scientist at Yale who co-edited 'Understanding Civil War: Evidence and Analysis,' published by the World Bank in 2005. 'The level of violence is so extreme that it far surpasses most civil wars since 1945.' . . .

"On Friday, Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, insisted that the Iraq conflict was not civil war, noting that Iraq's top leaders had agreed with that assessment. Last month, Tony Snow, the chief spokesman for President Bush, acknowledged that there were many groups trying to undermine the government, but said that there was no civil war because 'it's not clear that they are operating as a unified force. You don't have a clearly identifiable leader.'"

Harvard professor Monica Toft wrote on NiemanWatchdog.org in July that there are six criteria for considering a conflict a civil war -- and that Iraq had met all six since early 2004.

Here is CNN's Michael Ware talking to Kitty Pilgrim on Friday:

Pilgrim: "Michael, the Iraqi government and the U.S. military in Baghdad keep saying this is not a civil war. What are you seeing?

"MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, firstly, let me say, perhaps it's easier to deny that this is a civil war, when essentially you live in the most heavily fortified place in the country within the Green Zone, which is true of both the prime minister, the national security adviser for Iraq and, of course, the top U.S. military commanders. However, for the people living on the streets, for Iraqis in their homes, if this is not civil war, or a form of it, then they do not want to see what one really looks like.

"This is what we're talking about. We're talking about Sunni neighborhoods shelling Shia neighborhoods, and Shia neighborhoods shelling back.

"We're having Sunni communities dig fighting positions to protect their streets. We're seeing Sunni extremists plunging car bombs into heavily-populated Shia marketplaces. We're seeing institutionalized Shia death squads in legitimate police and national police commando uniforms going in, systematically, to Sunni homes in the middle of the night and dragging them out, never to be seen again.

"I mean, if this is not civil war, where there is, on average, 40 to 50 tortured, mutilated, executed bodies showing up on the capital streets each morning, where we have thousands of unaccounted for dead bodies mounting up every month, and where the list of those who have simply disappeared for the sake of the fact that they have the wrong name, a name that is either Sunni or Shia, so much so that we have people getting dual identity cards, where parents cannot send their children to school, because they have to cross a sectarian line, then, goodness, me, I don't want to see what a civil war looks like either if this isn't one."

Two More to Come?</>

Marc Kaufman writes in The Washington Post: "Jordan's King Abdullah, who will host President Bush this week during emergency talks on Iraq, said yesterday that the Middle East faces the prospect of three simultaneous civil wars erupting.

"'We're juggling with the strong potential of three civil wars in the region, whether it's the Palestinians, that of Lebanon, or of Iraq,' the Jordanian king said on ABC's 'This Week.'

"He said that as a result, 'something dramatic' had to come out of this week's Amman meetings between Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. 'I don't think we're in a position where we can come back and revisit the problem in early 2007,' he told interviewer George Stephanopoulos."

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