Is There a "Civil War" in Iraq?

Anthony Cordesman, an ABC News consultant and the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies blogs:

The AOL short version of the Merriam Webster dictionary defines civil war as "a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country." The Webster's New World Dictionary, 3rd College edition, defines it as "war between geographical or political factions of the same nation."

The trend data issued by the Department of Defense in its August Quarterly Status Report show a roughly 12-fold increase in sectarian violence over the last year, as well as a steady trend towards more violent civil war.

There is no reliable casualty data to draw upon. The results of the recent Lancet study present serious credibility problems. They describe a state of violence so different from that reported by the MNF-I and reporters on the scene that either this one study is right or MNF-I, the Iraqi government, and every reporter actually in Iraq is radically wrong.

The results of the Lancet study must still be considered, however, because they portray a state of conflict that has taken on the character of a serious civil war since June 2005. The Lancet mortality data show:

-2.6 "excess deaths" per thousand people in March 03-April 04 (range of 0.6-4.7)-5.6 per thousand in May 04-May 05 (range of 2.7-8.6)-4.2 per thousand in June 05-June 06 (range of 8.6-21.5)

What may be easier to understand, is that the Lancet study also says that -- as of July 2005 over 600,000 had died since the fall of Saddam Hussein, most by gunfire.

It is important to note that this total compares with far lower estimates of about 44,000-49,000 killed for Iraq Body Count, and a maximum of around 128,000 killed for an Iraqi NGO of limited credibility. MNF-I and the Iraqi government have not issued recent official counts but they seem to make estimates of killed that total around 60,000-80,000, with 100,000 as the outlying total.

When any of these sources of such numbers are put in the broader perspective that wounded usually exceed killed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are being displaced or exiled. The totals range from around 2% to more than 5% of the total population.

In addition, kidnappings, extortions, and intimidations affect much of Iraq, and are common in Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Basra, (40% of the population) and in Anbar, Ninewa, Salah al-Din, Diyala, and Baghdad Provinces (about 45% of the total territory). Sectarian violence is also rising in the Tarneem and Najaf Provinces.

This is a civil war.

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