A reason to believe
Iyad Allawi, the former Prime Minister of Iraq, is being quoted as describing Iraq in a state of civil war.
"It is unfortunate that we are in civil war. We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more," Allawi told the BBC. "If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."
Jalal Talabani apparently rejects this assertion.
"One can completely rule out the threat of a civil war," Jalal Talabani, the president, told reporters after a meeting of political parties discussing the formation of a unity government. The Iraqi people cannot accept a civil war. We are passing through a difficult period right now, but the attachment of Iraqis to their country will prevent such a war," he said. "We are a long way from a civil war and we are working towards a formula for a national accord."
The British Defense Minister says that Allawi had said something rather diferent to him just shortly before his BBC interview.
While visiting British troops in Iraq on Sunday, Defense Secretary John Reid said Allawi's remarks to the BBC contradicted what the former prime minister told him during a Saturday meeting.
"Every single politician I have met here from the prime minister to the president, the defense minister and indeed Ayad Allawi himself yesterday said to me there's an increase in the sectarian killing, but there's not a civil war and we will not allow a civil war to develop," Reid said.
So what's the truth? The principle in determining truth should be to apply the factual indicator test. A civil war is a visible event whose indicators includes the insubordination of armed units, mass refugee flows, the rise of rival governments, etc. The test is whether those events are being observed. What famous individuals say about a situation is a shortcut for encapsulating a factual assessment; it describes reality as public figures see it but is not the reality itself. That remains a mystery until developments unfold. One interesting indicator of how the US military sees the situation are its plans to turn over large parts of the country to Iraqi forces. Bloomberg reports:
March 17 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. hopes to hand over 75 percent of Iraq to Iraqi Security Forces by the end of the summer, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Baghdad said. ``All indications are that we will make that,'' Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, said from Baghdad during a briefing televised at the Pentagon today, adding that he didn't ``want to be so precise as to put myself in a box.'' ...
Since the bombing, Iraqi security forces have performed well ``without regard for their religious or tribal affiliations,'' Chiarelli said. ... He estimated that Iraqis currently control ``somewhere under 50 percent'' of the nation, adding that ``there are large areas out in al-Anbar where that is not the case.'' Insurgent violence is centered in al-Anbar, a Sunni-dominated province west of the capital. ``We are finding that Iraqi units, with our support, can be used in just about any operation we do in a counter-insurgency role,'' Chiarelli said, speaking via a video-link from Baghdad. ``They are particularly well prepared and well trained and have the ability to do that in just about any area.''
This apparently innocuous statement contains a wealth of implication. It primarily suggests confidence, but it also admits that while Iraqi forces are coming along, they are not yet decisive without the assistance of US forces. The insurgency in Anbar, though contained, has not yet been stamped out, though sometime between now and the end of summer more inroads will be made upon it if Chiarelli's statements are any guide to events.
Politically what's interesting is how the narrative has changed. Nobody is talking about the Sunni insurgency succeeding any more. Even the press hardly makes the claim of an insurgency on the brink of success. As late as November 2005, the Daily Kos was boasting: "The occupation is exacerbating terrorism in the country. America is losing, the insurgency is winning. Maybe we should say, 'has won.'" But by the December 2005 elections this view could no longer be held by anyone with the slightest regard for the facts. Juan Cole said:
The guerrillas are really no more than mosquitoes to US forces. The casualties they have inflicted on the US military, of over 2000 dead and some 15,000 wounded, are deeply regrettable and no one should make light of them. But this level of insurgency could never defeat the US military in the field.
Cole forgets to remind the reader that mosquitoes did for the French in Algeria, the Russians in Afghanistan and even pushed the Israelis out of Lebanon. The enormity of the victory against the insurgency was never a given. In some respects the US achievement was historical. Whatever else happens, this should be remembered.
Cole also rejected assertions that Iraq was in Civil War.
[Myth:] Iraq is already in a civil war, so it does not matter if the US simply withdraws precipitately, since the situation is as bad as it can get. No, it isn't. During the course of the guerrilla war, the daily number of dead has fluctuated, between about 20 and about 60. But in a real civil war, it could easily be 10 times that. Some estimates of the number of Afghans killed during their long set of civil wars put the number at 2.5 million, along with 5 million displaced abroad and more millions displaced internally. Iraq is Malibu Beach compared to Afghanistan in its darkest hours. The US has a responsibility to get out of Iraq responsibly and to not allow it to fall into that kind of genocidal civil conflict.
Instead of insurgency the talking points have changed to how Sunnis might soon become victims of an ethnically hostile Iraqi army in a Civil War. Going from a boast of conquest to a portrayal of victim is usually an indicator of something. In my view, the shift of meme from the "insurgency" to a "civil war" is a backhanded way of admitting the military defeat of the insurgency without abandoning the characterization of Iraq is an American fiasco. It was Zarqawi and his cohorts themselves who changed the terms of reference from fighting US forces to sparking a 'civil war'. With any luck, they'll lose that campaign too.