The reluctance of the Bush administration to label Iraq a "civil war" stems from the foreign policy objectives for going into Iraq in the first place.
According to what seems to be the popularly held political science definition, a civil war requires (1) that there be warring parties from the same country fighting for political power or seperatist state and (2) at least 1000 people killed with 100 from both sides.
There is no disputing (2). It's riduculous to argue over what body count causes bells to ring, trumpets to blow and big balloons to drop down from the sky while a biplane spells out "Civil War" in the sky.
But (1) is where the Bush administration - and anyone else - has some room to debate.
In order to consider the situation in Iraq a civil war, you have to assume the existence of a real country. The details of the formation of Iraq is not exactly a story that inspires confidence.
Because of the way Iraq was created, because of the volatile mix of Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, there is still dispute over who the players are. It isn't just insurgents, fighting against a US-backed government. It isn't just Shias and Sunnis, fighting a civil war over religion. It isn't just Kurds, fighting for a seperate state. It isn't just Iran, Al-Qaeda or the US. It's a lot of things at once.
What are all these sides fighting for? Oil? Land? Sovereignty? Religion? Democracy? The new Caliphate? Intifada against the Zionists?
I understand the reluctance to call Iraq a civil war, like I understand the reluctance to call America an empire. But there is no other terminology. But in the case of Iraq, as in the case of America, the definitions are being changed to fit the situation; not the other way around.
The hesitation to call Iraq a civil war is more than just PR. The term
"civil war" recognizes a lack of control, and dramatically changes the interpretation of the US role in Iraq.
Says one columnist:
"This matters. We not only speak, but think, in language. To communicate effectively, we must describe things efficiently. Agreeing upon its name is essential to a deeper understanding of any phenomenon. Nouns are the handles with which we grip reality.
Our troops can kill our enemies no matter what we call them, but our inability to describe our experience in Iraq accurately makes it far harder for our civilian leaders to understand it. (Not that everyone in either party is committed to an honest analysis.)"
Regardless of what we call it, there is war and killing and Iraq. There will probably be, as Profarley says, genocide on the horizon. And not the kind the UN can ignore.
There is a civil war in Iraq. America is an empire. This is an empire, and a civil war, that have never been seen before. We need to expand the definition, debate it and discuss it. Make it into something we can grasp, so that we can move forward in addressing what is indisputably going to be remembered as the most significant war of the 21st century.