Civil War? Why does it matter?


Tyler Murphy

The American Heritage dictionary defines civil war as a war between factions or regions of the same country. This is confusing because it doesn’t really explain the extent of conflict necessary in order to consider it a true civil war. The current administration says the conflict in Iraq is not a civil war because the conflict is relatively isolated to the capital and a few other troubled cities and in order for it to be a civil war, it must spread to the rest of the country. I can see the logic in that to a point, but under this definition you couldn’t consider the American Civil War a civil war because it didn’t expand to the entire United States.

According to the United Nations, 3,709 civilians died in October and the worst single civilian attack since the war began took place last week, killing more than 200 people and injuring over 250. The U.S. has lost 2,884 soldiers since the war began, meaning the losses in one month for civilians is almost 1,000 more than our total since 2003. 21,485 U.S. service men have been seriously wounded and many estimate the civilian deaths over 100,000. One credible independent group that was once given acclaim for their work by the U.S., estimated it over 600,000 deaths since the war began. On any given day between 50 and 80 bodies are found in Baghdad, most of them showing signs of torture by power tools and other industrial equipment.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, when addressing if Iraq should be considered a civil war, said, “Unless something is done drastically and urgently to arrest the deteriorating situation, we could be there. In fact we are almost there,” NBC broadcasting and many other media groups have began calling the violence a civil war despite the fact it has not officially been classified as such by the U.S. or its allies. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said today, Nov. 29, that Iraq’s violence meets the standard of civil war and that if he were heading the State Department now, he might recommend that the administration use that term.

So why does it matter? Many believe that if the U.S. officially classifies the conflict as a civil war it will be admitting a defeat and encourage more violence. It would further demonstrate the already weakened position of the U.S. and the Iraqi government. This would undoubtedly undermine U.S. efforts to stabilize the region and weaken public support for the war even more. The decision may also cripple an already deeply divided Iraqi democracy. Also by claiming it is a civil war, you must give the insurgency more credit. They become a faction or guerilla movement and no longer represent a few discontented individuals but rather could be perceived as a cause. Effectively a terrorist organization has found a way to transform into a revolutionary group. This would indeed be a victory for those seeking to splinter the country and impair U.S. interests. However these predictions appear to be unfolding already.

At some point however the U.S. will be seen as being arrogant and incompetent if a true civil is recognized by credible organizations or countries and not by us. It has already begun. We will appear even weaker if we are so desperate as to stay in a state of denial. The world will make its own judgments to the conflict in Iraq and then they will make judgments on us. What are they to think of our policy makers or our people? I don’t envy the administration’s position but the time of illusion is over for the American people and the world. I only hope it is now the time of truth for our leaders. It is lose, lose either way. It reminds me of a humorous yet truthful remark I once heard, “if you can’t do something smart, do something right.”