Friday, November 24, 2006

Just when is a civil war a civil war?

I'm a little confused. From the Associated Press:
Militiamen grabbed six Sunnis as they left Friday worship services, doused them with kerosene and burned them alive as Iraqi soldiers stood by, and seven Sunni mosques came under attack as Shiites took revenge for the slaughter of 215 people in the Sadr City slum.

With the government trying to avert a civil war, two simultaneous bombings in Tal Afar, in northern Iraq, killed at least 23 people. On Thursday, Sunni-Arab insurgents unleashed bombings and mortar attacks in Sadr City, the deadliest assault since the U.S.-led invasion.
Here's my confusion: if someone is trying to avert something, doesn't that indicate that the thing they are trying to avert hasn't happened yet? From dictionary.com, I find this definition: To ward off (something about to happen); prevent. How can one ward off something about to happen when it has already happened?

Perhaps I need to reframe the question: When is an insurgency a civil war? What makes a conflict a civil war? Again relying on dictionary.com, a civil war is a war between political factions or regions within the same country

Is this not what we are faced with in Iraq right now, a war between factions within the same country? Is this not an Iraqi civil war? And, if so, what ought we, America, do about it?

I know plenty of pundits and policy makers have been focusing on this very question, but I also believe it is time for us common citizens to begin to grapple with this question, and to begin to let our elected officials know what answers we're coming up with.

Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of NATO and currently a senior fellow at UCLA's Burkle Center for International Relations has some thoughts worth considering. And, while you might disagree with much of what she says, Hillary Clinton's comments before the Council on Foreign Relations are worth a read, also.

What are your thoughts on where we are and where we must go?

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