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Published:December 6th, 2006 13:24 EST
Defining Civil War

Defining Civil War

By Janera Fedrick

The current debate is whether or not the situation in Iraq should be called a ’civil war.’ On Nov. 25, NBC News decided to use the term ‘civil war’ to refer to the ongoing bloodshed in Iraq. The Bush Administration disagrees, saying that the violence in Iraq is not civil war but an al-Qaida plot to use violence to encourage Iraqi factions to attack each other.

According to the Los Angeles Times article, “NBC to use ‘civil war’ to describe Iraq", NBC’s decision to use the term came after a series of deadly attacks in Baghdad. This made it the first television network to officially adopt the term ‘civil war.’ The Los Angeles Times was the first major news organization to formally adopt the term to describe the hostilities in Iraq in October.

CNN has left the description of the violence in Iraq up to its correspondents. Many have used ‘civil war’ in the last few months.

“Anyone who still remains in doubt about whether this is civil war or not is suffering from the luxury of distance." CNN reporter Michael Ware said on the air last Monday.

Bush has resisted its use. In an news report, he stated that “ the sectarian violence rocking Iraq is not civil war."

“There’s a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented-- in my opinion-- because of attacks by al-Qaida causing people to seek reprisal," said Bush at a news conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik.

According to, the definition of a civil war is “a war in which parties within the same culture, society or nationality fight for political power or control of an area. Political scientists use two criteria: the warring groups must be from the same country and fighting for control of the political center, control over a separatist state or to force a major change in policy. The second criterion is that at least 1,000 people must have been killed in total, with at least 100 from each side."

Based on this definition, the situation in Iraq can be classified as a civil war.

“For months now, the White House has rejected claims that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated into civil war, and for the most part, news organization like NBC have hesitated to characterize it as such," Today Show co-anchor Matt Lauer said in the LA Times article.

“But after careful consideration , NBC News has decided a change in terminology is warranted, that the situation in Iraq with armed militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas can now be characterized as civil war."

The White House objected to this description.

“What you have is sectarian violence that seems to be less aimed at gaining full control over an area than expressing differences, and also trying to destabilize a democracy-- which is different than civil war…." White House Press Secretary Tony Snow told on Air Force One last Monday.