Civil War

Today NBC declared that the Iraq conflict is, in fact, a civil war. Naturally, the Official White House Position is otherwise. This is from today’s press gaggle:

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.

But, look, the point is, it is what it is. There is a high level of sectarian violence. It is a challenge for the Iraqis. It’s a challenge for us. We need to be talking about a way forward and a strategy for dealing with it. And that’s really what the President has been focusing on and where we need to focus — how to deal with this particular challenge going forward.

Q — the President fears that were he to —

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.

Q Can I just follow on — isn’t the President’s fear that were he to acknowledge that it is a civil war that there would be a further bottoming-out of public support? There certainly have been Republicans and others who have said the public would not stand by for U.S. forces to be in the middle of a civil war. So isn’t there a political dimension to this that nobody wants to admit, including the Iraqis, that it is a civil war?

It goes downhill from here. Way downhill. I’m quoting some more just so you can appreciate the degree of deterioration.

MR. HADLEY: I don’t think Americans have any — I think they — through the media and other things, there is a high degree of awareness, obviously that there is a lot of sectarian violence. You know, you show it on your TVs and it’s in the newspapers. This is something that they’re well aware of and they’re obviously very concerned about it and want to know what our strategy is going forward, in light of this phenomenon — which has really served us, since February and the bombing of the Shia mosque.

So it is a new element on the security scene; it is a real challenge to the government; it is something that the government needs to address. The unity government is clear and aware of that. And it’s a big challenge, and people understand that. So I think people are aware, they’re concerned, they want us to work out a strategy with the Iraqi government that offers the prospect of dealing with this problem. And that’s what we’re going to try to do.

Q Can you explain how something that started in February is a new phase?

MR. HADLEY: I said it is a new phase that started in February, and obviously we have seen more of it in recent days. I think one of the things one has to recognize is that while we call it sectarian violence, there is evidence, for example, that Saddamists, and particularly al Qaeda, are trying to foment and encourage the sectarian violence. You have heard it, you have read al Qaeda’s words — it was clearly part of Zarqawi’s strategy. We continue to see evidence that this is being something that is triggered in order to encourage the kind of effect it has the society.

So we call it sectarian violence — but I think one has to recognize that for certain Saddamists and al Qaeda, particularly, this is premeditated, this is a technique they are using. The effect of it, of course, is very destructive, it sets communities against one another. And it is something that we have addressed. It is, as you know, largely centered at this point in Baghdad. We have been trying to address that through a Baghdad security strategy. We have been through two phases. And I think the answer to that is, at this point, it has not proceeded well enough or fast enough. And, therefore, one of the subjects on the agenda is what is a better approach to the challenge in Baghdad.

So it is new, that appeared in February; it is something we have been dealing with and trying to adapt to with the Iraqi government. But, again, we have not done well enough or fast enough to be satisfactory to Prime Minister Maliki and his government, or to the President. That’s just the facts.

Oh, give up, Hadley. Or just read the press releases. From NBC’s First Read (via Froomkin):

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.

That doesn’t make sense either, but at least it’s succinct.

I was semi listening to Hardball today and I do believe I heard Tony Blankely argue that if Iraq is in a civil war, that would prove President Bush’s policies were wrong. Therefore, it isn’t a civil war.


Edward Wong wrote in yesterday’s New York Times:

Some Bush administration officials have argued that there is no obvious political vision on the part of the Sunni-led insurgent groups, so “civil war” does not apply.

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.

No shit.

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.

Mr. Fearon and a colleague at Stanford, David D. Laitin, say the deaths per year in Iraq, with at least 50,000 reportedly killed since March 2003, place this conflict on par with wars in Burundi and Bosnia.

As Michael Ware told Wolf Blitzer, “If this is not a civil war, Wolf, I don’t want to see one when it comes.”

Update: I should have paid for attention to Hardball; I missed this part (from Think Progress).

11 thoughts on “Civil War

  1. Holy crap…..8 months ago I was talking to a republican and even she called what was going on in Iraq a civil war.My look of shock caused her to ask me “What, you think since I am a republican that I am not smart enough to see what is going on?”Without missing a beat I replied”No, since you are a republican I assumed you’d at least lie about it.”And that was the truth.I never expected to hear anything close to reality,yet I was pleased to discover she got it..and she had the courage to say it out loud…funny how now, 8 months later the whitehouse still denies what even republicans understood then….amazing!!!!!!!!!!
    Before you give her too much credit, however, she went right into spin mode and declared “it wasn’t like it was “our” fault or anything, after all”those people” have been fighting since the dawn of time(a speedy return to clueless)…but given the fact those nasty arab people ruined our grand war with their nasty little civil thing she had already moved on to the idea that it was ok to, as she put it,”back out and let them kill each other off and then move back in and take the land”……OMG…I thought for sure my head would just explode.The compassionate conservative was flowing from her ever pore…It was as if she had never thought of the folks in Iraq as being people – just make them all go away and fill up my SUV kinda thinking.I wished I could put her on a plane bound for Iraq where she could see people..families and the suffering first hand…She should SEE what her ideas cost real people..she should hold the hand of a mother, just like her, as she is forced to bury her innocent child.
    I wish more people would try to imagine walking in the shoes of an Iraqi person.When I try to imagine I cannot think of anyone, not even my worst enemy that I would wish such suffering upon.For us to speak of what has happened there with anything but shame is beyond cruel.Our actions have sparked a civil war among innocent people in a country that, like the leader or not, was pretty damn stable.And in the middle of all the suffering we have created we can’t even say the words civil war because we are more concerned with our own guilt then the on going suffering….lets not bruise the kings ego, shall we?Heartbreaking.
    You know, when it is going to be ok for us to look at ourselves as a nation who tortures, pisses on the constitution,and can’t even admit we screwed up and sparked a civil war and say “you know maybe we ARE bad people”?Isn’t the first step to recovery being able to admit your errors?

  2. I heard somebody on All Things Considered just eviscerate the argument that has been put forth that it wasn’t a civil war because it wasn’t countrywide. The guy on NPR said “by those standards, the American Civil War wasn’t a civil war either, since there was no fighting in Maine.”

  3. I was semi listening to Hardball today and I do believe I heard Tony Blankely argue that if Iraq is in a civil war, that would prove President Bush’s policies were wrong. Therefore, it isn’t a civil war.

    I was wondering why Bush was so not wanting it to be a Civil War. Its more of that ‘State of Denial’ stuff. You know, with this alternative reality that Bush is in I really do wonder if he’s half ‘mad’. You know, like King George was.

  4. As Juan Cole says today: What is the US military’s current mission? Somebody define the mission. How do members of the military decide each day who to shoot at, who to kill? (My own bet is that they decide that any Iraqi will do.) With no plan, I guess we’ll be surprised when people in the Green Zone are held hostage by a large number of angry Iraqis.


  5. I think the reluctance to call it a civil war is that the people will compare Bush and Lincoln…and then have Jr.s picture taken by Matthew Brady.
    I heard someone suggest it was because they thought the people would compare it to our civil war. Oh, like trying to compare it to WWII isn’t weird, righties???
    But, I look at it this way, if it walks like a civil war and talks like a civil war….it’s a civil war.

  6. You say potato and I say …… I think the Iraqi dead and their families don’t care what we call it – their loved one’s are still dead!

    …..meanwhile on Faux News with Greta – it’s Natalie Holloway’s mother again…..

  7. Maha, your post absolutely cracked me up. Somebody at Comedy Central should do it exactly as you wrote it.

    Somehow this whole what-is-it-called thing reminds me of when the inimitable Tony Snow – newly on the scene – was asked to comment on the number of American casualties in Iraq and his reply was, “Well, it’s just a number.” Suffering from a severe case of denial as they seem to be, the Bush Administration will never deal effectively with Iraq because there is nothing happening in Iraq that needs dealing with.

  8. McCaffrey and Priest were both so on target with Chris Matthews last night.


    MATTHEWS: The American people have walked away from this thing. They‘re not going to come back. It is a civil war. They are struggling to control areas—the Kirkuk oil basin, the crossroads of Iraq, Baghdad. This is a civil war. Senator John Warner and Chuck Hagle and these distinguished Republicans said, If it‘s a civil war, we are coming home.

    So that‘s, I think—a lot of this is inside the beltway nonsense, trying to avoid the political consequences of talking to reality.

  9. Heard somebody say it isn’t a civil war because the sides aren’t trying to take territory.

    But if that’s the definition, then the War on Terror isn’t a war either…

  10. I don’t expect anyone is reading posts this late, and you have posted some juicy ones since, but I wanted to put this up for you to use later. It may prove relevent.

    Hadley (WH talking head) said Monday. “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.”

    Take the statement apart point by point.

    “two clearly defined and opposing groups”

    Well the fighting seems to be between Sunis and Shiites. They seem to be clearly defined. Do they have to decide one side will wear blue and the other gray?

    “vying not only for power”

    The ‘unity’ governemnt is reportedly bent on establishing a Shiite majority in every department. The police and military are perceived as Shiite-dominated, to the extent that (reportedly) police watched as 6 or 7 Sunis were doused with kerosine and set on fire after prayers at a Mosque. Police did nothing. Sunis were in power under Sadaam and maintained power through fear. Though they are the minority, they are trying to bully the Shiites into submission. The tactic worked when the Shiites lacked weapons but now it’s payback time. This is about power.

    “but for territory”

    Look at the map. Kurds control the North; there is oil there. Shiites control the South; there is oil there. If you partition the country, the Sunis get the center and the shaft. There’s not much oil there.

    Perhaps you think that Sunis have not noticed what partitioning would do and territory does not play. The Sunis will negotiate for big slices of oil rich territory before they will agree to SIT at the table, even though they are gettng their butts kicked.

    True, neither side has conventional armies with tanks and cannon to take land and hold it against a corresponding army. But this is about territory and the wealth under the sand.

  11. Let’s impeach Bush who is in denial that we must leave Iraq forthwith. Malaki dissed Bush becaue Al-Sadr threatened Malaki not to meet with Bush, or else. The only solution in Iraq is to make a truce with Al-Sadr; we already tried killing him, that didn’t work (although it left 850,000 dead Iraquis in its wake and another 3,00,000 disfigured and amputated). Germany will try Rummy for war crimes and Bush will be next after he leaves office. He’s another Pinochet waiting to happen.
    In Miami, not another third world country, Colorado politicians be damned.

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