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Sunday, November 26, 2006

So Is It A Civil War Or Not?

The NYT thinks so. Today it asserts:

Though the Bush administration continues to insist that it is not, a growing number of American and Iraqi scholars, leaders and policy analysts say the fighting in Iraq meets the standard definition of civil war.

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.

Read it here.

Other important scholars disagree. John Keegan, for instance, argues in Prospect:
Objectively, it must be concluded that the disorders in Iraq do not constitute a civil war but are nearer to a politico-military struggle for power. Such struggles in Muslim countries defy resolution because Islam is irreconcilably divided over the issue of the succession to Muhammad. It might be said that Islam is in a permanent state of civil war (at least where there is a significant minority of the opposing sect) and that authority in Muslim lands can be sustained only by repression if the state takes on a religious cast, since neither Shia nor Sunni communities can concede legitimacy to their opponents.
Read it here.

Why does it matter what they call it? To the left it matters because calling the Iraq conflict a "civil war" would reinforce their argument that Iraq is a replay of Vietnam and that the US has no right to be interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign country. Such a defninition also helps them to conceptually divorce the Iraq conflict from the larger war on Islamisr radicalism. The Bush administration and its supporters resist that argument and see Iraq as merely one front in the larger conflict. That is why they avoid using the term. You can support either position depending on how you define "civil war" and how you choose to define it depends in large measure on your political leanings.

UPDATE: On Monday NBC, dutifully following the NYT line again, announced that it would now start referring to the Iraq conflict as a "civil war." Take that, Bush!!!

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