On November 27, 2006, NBC News announced it would begin referring to the conflict in Iraq as a “Civil War”. For many, this was a “told ya so”, or “duh, ya think?” moment. One of the earliest articles I found on calling Iraq a “Civil War” is this one by William S. Lind on antiwar.com from July 22nd, 2004. It may very well be that earlier articles proclaiming Iraq a Civil War are out there. I just didn’t want to take the time to sort through 18 million hits on “Iraq Civil War” from Google. Certainly many many people have been calling it a civil war, including plenty of Iraqi bloggers. Although the White House disputed the label, others such as MSNBC host Keith Olbermann suggested it was a “Cronkite” moment - referring to the point in the Vietnam War where Walter Cronkite called Vietnam as a “stalemate”.
The Answers.com definition for Civil War is “A war between factions or regions of the same country”. Well, that is pretty clear & concise and describes what is happening in Iraq. Not so much the regions going at it, but the factions are. There are other definitions of “civil war” that go to scope and scale, and these allow some room for debate regarding Iraq. Saying they are in a “low level” civil war allows the term to fit without conjuring images of Bull Run, Shiloh, or Gettysburg in American eyes.
However, somehow to me the term doesn’t fit. Of course there are plenty of factions fighting in Iraq, and anyone who wonders how much worse it can get unfortunately finds the answer in the next day’s headlines. Still, the various factions seem less interested in fighting each other than in fighting us and the Iraqi civilians. If they just fought us, I would understand a little better. Their continued targeting of civilians, use of civilians as cover and shields, and their blatant disregard for civilian suffering sets this war apart. And any time armed factions duke it out, or our military engages them, civilians are often caught in the crossfire. In light of this, I have made a personal decision to call the conflict in Iraq a “Civilian War”, and not a “Civil War”. It may also be known by the slightly longer and less catchy “War on Iraq’s Civilians”.
I’ve created this handy graphic to help navigate the factions involved in the conflict.
The major combatants are:
Iraqi and Foreign Terrorists – these are the hardcore Mujahedeen and jihadis who wish to brand everyone as “infidels” and therefore “targets”, except for themselves of course. However, Allah wills that they attack other Muslims and grants them admission to paradise for their martyrdom operations. The more innocent their victims, the greater their glory. They also target our forces, to keep recruiting up.
Criminals and Thugs – these are the gangsters of Iraq, those who use kidnapping, murder, and threats of violence to extort money or power from Iraqis. They attack the government to assert their own power, but they do not attack the MNF. If they did, they would be the “Patriotic Resistance” and everything else would be excused.
The “Patriotic Resistance” – these are the patriots of Iraq, those who use kidnapping, murder, and threats of violence to extort money or power from Iraqis. The "Resistance" is composed primarily of elements of the old regime who are "resisting" progress and freedom in Iraq. They also attack our forces just enough to provide a smokescreen for their international cheerleaders and sympathizers as well as Iraqi citizens.
The Iraqi Militias – these are the private armies of the religious parties such as al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army and al-Hakim’s rival but “disbanded” Badr Brigade. These seek to make Iraqi neighborhoods safe by cleansing them of residents. Residents of the “other” sects or factions ideally, but blood is blood and it all gets reported the same in the news.
The groups above mainly kill Iraqi civilians, despite what or who they claim to be aiming for. The groups below mainly try to avoid civilian casualties despite tragic mistakes, crossfire, and mistaken identity incidents. Continuing on:
The Iraqi government – this is the first democratically elected government in Iraq’s modern history. Unable to make everything better within 90 minutes of taking office, they are often attacked by any of the above listed factions and constantly by Iraqi and international press. They are responsible for the police though a large number of them take their weapons, training, and loyalties elsewhere (usually in a militia). The government also controls the Army, which is far from perfect but could develop into an effective force loyal to Iraq as a whole.
The Multinational Forces, primarily the US military engaged in Iraq. Undefeated in any straight up fights, our forces find themselves conducting “armed social work” these days in Iraq more than anything else. Although the MNF takes on many of the “bad guys” in Iraq, none of them can be distinguished from regular Iraqis, once they ditch their masks and weapons. The MNF would also like to take a shot (literally) at the militias, but the political wing of same has too much power in the gov’t, so… “permission denied” so far. All this, plus a few highly publicized incidents, make the MNF a contributor to the plight of Iraqi civilians.
As a non-Muslim American, I may have a hard time telling a Shia from a Sunni. However, I do see similarities in how innocent civilians from either sect are targeted by the other side in Iraq’s Civilian War. Compare and contrast “Omar’s Odyssey” from Iraqi Konfused Kid (an account of Shia militia vs Sunni civilians) with “Survivor’s Witness Executions” from IraqSlogger’s Baghdad Diary (an account of “Patriotic Resistance” vs Shia civilians). Iraq’s Civilian War is a complicated affair with many actors and the Iraqi civilians caught in the middle of it.