The Navy Times cites a chart in the report -- Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq -- that illustrates the rise in sectarian violence: "the number of average weekly attacks rose from about 550 per week for the period ending in February to nearly 800 per week for the period ending in mid-August." In addition, "the number of car bomb attacks [have] returned to summer 2005 levels." And "daily casualties increased by 1,000 per month compared to the last quarter."
Specifically, the report says:
Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, specifically in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi civilian population has increased in recent months.
Report Reflects Growing Concern
On 3 August, Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate committee, "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war."
And on 22 August, the top British General in Iraq, Lt. Gen Robert Fry told FOX News: "What I think we have is something which is at the very best civil war in miniature, at the very best." Nevertheless, he doesn't believe it's a real civil war.
So what is a "real" civil war? In other words, are we (the public) victim of a framing game?
Concept of "Civil" War
To most Americans (and to Google), "civil war" is what happened in the US between the North and the South in the late 1800s. Brother fighting brother. The "religion" of that war encompassed attitudes towards slavery, taxes and trade.
In Iraq, the violence (war?) is rooted in a long-standing religious split -- Sunnis and Shiites -- as well as the to-be-expected conflict that occurs when a minority group with power (Sunnis) is dethroned, so to speak. What's increasingly dangerous is that in Iraq, this conflict manifests in growing physical violence and is not confined to Baghdad.
What we are discussing is protracted internal violence. And since the classic definition of a civil war is "a war between factions or regions of the same country," perhaps the semantic waffling is due to lack of consensus on what constitutes "war." Is it body count?
In the last quarter, there were 56 new contractor death claims, for a total of 575 since March 2003. And there have been 2,642 US soliders killed since March 2003. And 2,563 (97%) of these deaths have come since President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished." However, these deaths don't necessarily "count" if what we are looking at is civil war.
These data paint a picture very different from that envisioned by Vice President Cheney on 16 March 2003: "We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators ... I think it will go relatively quickly... (in) weeks rather than months."
And as horrific as these data are -- and as off-base as Administration pre-war claims have proved to be -- they don't really tell us if Iraq is in a civil war.
Domestic Body Count Grows More
However, the Iraq Ministry of Health reports that at least 50,000 civilians have been killed since March 2003. How many of these deaths are Sunnis attacking Shiites (and vice versa)? That's the question.
And Friday's report made clear that the civilian body count is escalating: “daily casualties increased by 1,000 per month compared to the last quarter.” Despite headlines which might suggest otherwise,"far more people died in Iraq over the past month than in Israel and Lebanon."
The religious strife is not new, but the open violence is.
Scholars remind us that sectarianism is long-standing and "exist[ed] inside Iraq prior to the US invasion." In fact, Saddam Hussein "encourag[ed] tribal divisions and ... exploited religion by increasingly publicly embracing Islam, and privately favoring Sunni factions and religious leaders that supported him while penalizing Shi’ite religious leaders and centers he saw as a threat."
Citizens Leaving The Country
One mark of a civil war is expatriation -- citizens leaving the country. Since March 2003, 40 percent of the professionals in the country have left Iraq. More than a third of the physicians in the country have left.
Scholars Assert Civil War
On Sunday 20 August, the Washington Post ran a long essay by two distinguished scholars who started thusly:
By any definition, Iraq is in a state of civil war. Indeed, the only thing standing between Iraq and a descent into total Bosnia-like devastation is 135,000 U.S. troops -- and even they are merely slowing the fall. The internecine conflict could easily spiral into one that threatens not only Iraq but also its neighbors throughout the oil-rich Persian Gulf region with instability, turmoil and war.
Sectarian violence -- that rooted in conflict between different sects of a religion -- is not new to Iraq (or other countries). Whether or not this constitutes a "civil war" depends entirely on how you define the term. Remember: he who frames the debate, wins the debate.