Most people who watch the news or read the reports of what’s going on in Iraq are pretty sure that the conflict there has become a civil war even if they aren’t really sure how to define “civil war.”
The New York Times ran a piece on Sunday that includes definitions by people who specialize in the study of civil wars:
The common scholarly definition has two main criteria. The first says that the warring groups must be from the same country and fighting for control of the political center, control over a separatist state or to force a major change in policy. The second says that at least 1,000 people must have been killed in total, with at least 100 from each side.
American professors who specialize in the study of civil wars say that most of their number are in agreement that Iraq’s conflict is a civil war.
“I think that at this time, and for some time now, the level of violence in Iraq meets the definition of civil war that any reasonable person would have,” said James Fearon, a political scientist at Stanford.
“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.”
Monday’s White House Press Conference included this exchange:
Q Do you maintain it’s still not a civil war in Iraq?
MR. HADLEY: Well, it’s interesting, the Iraqis don’t talk of it as a civil war; the unity government doesn’t talk of it as a civil war. And I think the things they point to when they say that are, one, that at this point in time the army and the police have not fractured along sectarian lines, which is what you’ve seen elsewhere; and the government continues to be holding together and has not fractured on sectarian terms.
MR. SNOW: — (inaudible) — civil war? No, but you have not yet had a situation also where you have two clearly defined and opposing groups vying not only for power, but for territory. What you do have is sectarian violence that seems to be less aimed at gaining full control over an area than expressing differences, and also trying to destabilize a democracy — which is different than a civil war, where two sides are clashing for territory and supremacy.
From the same NYT article:
“You need to let the world know there’s a civil war here in Iraq,” said Adel Ibrahim, 44, a sheik in the Subiah tribe, which is mostly Shiite. “It’s a crushing civil war. Mortars kill children in our neighborhoods. We’re afraid to travel anywhere because we’ll be killed in buses. We don’t know who is our enemy and who is our friend.”
And today, Colin Powell spoke at a forum in Dubai and pretty much said Iraq is in the midst of a civil war:
… according to David Hellaby, who organized the “Leaders in Dubai Business Forum.” No cameras were allowed in to record the talk, but Hellaby was present and issued a press release quoting Powell.
During his speech, Hellaby said, Powell said the Iraq war had three phases. The first, the invasion phase, went as planned. But the second phase, the military occupation, was “badly handled,” Powell said, according to the conference organizer.
Mistakes during the second phase led to the third, “which could be considered a civil war,” Powell told the conference, according to Hellaby.
Call it what you want Mr. Bush, but the rest of us will call it a civil war, and we’re all wondering what the hell we’re doing there. We think it’s time get the hell out. So do the Iraqi people. 71% of them.