Thursday, November 02, 2006

Crisis, chaos, civil war, mission accomplished: it's all a matter of definition

And definition is all about spin.

Language on Iraq -- when is it civil war? By Bernd Debusmann, Special Correspondent
What do you call a situation where 3,000 citizens of a country kill each other every month through bombing, shooting and beheading? If the country is Iraq, it depends on who answers the question.

U.S. and Iraqi government leaders are avoiding the term "civil war," although President George W. Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and several generals have said Iraq was "close to," "nearing" or "in danger of" civil war.

Experts outside the administration have been less circumspect.

Gen. John P. Abizaid, the commander of U.S. military operations in the Middle East, told a Senate committee in August that "the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war."

"In Iraq, we'll never be in civil war," Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said a few months after taking office six months ago.

His predecessor, Iyad Allawi, saw things differently. "We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

In the latest of a series of reports on Iraq, Anthony Cordesman, a widely-respected expert at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, said this month the level and sources of violence in Iraq clearly meet a dictionary definition of civil war.

Ken Pollack and Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institution think tank, reached a similar conclusion two months earlier.

"The debate is over. By any definition, Iraq is in a state of civil war," they said.

How to officially define "civil war" has been particularly difficult for the U.S. military. The U.S. Department of Defense's Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms has no entry for civil war and the term is also not mentioned in a new counter-insurgency manual for the Army and the Marines.

"It's really a political question," said an army officer who did not want to be named.

"And where this is debated publicly, it is mostly driven by politics. War critics make the point that we (the U.S.) aren't where we thought we'd be in Iraq, no matter how you describe what's happening."

Like the military, the U.S. intelligence community, composed of 16 different agencies, has not agreed on a common definition either, officials say. The Central Intelligence Agency's own criteria are secret.
Military Charts Movement of Conflict in Iraq Toward Chaos By MICHAEL R. GORDON
A classified briefing prepared two weeks ago by the United States Central Command portrays Iraq as edging toward chaos, in a chart that the military is using as a barometer of civil conflict.

A one-page slide shown at the Oct. 18 briefing provides a rare glimpse into how the military command that oversees the war is trying to track its trajectory, particularly in terms of sectarian fighting.

The slide includes a color-coded bar chart that is used to illustrate an “Index of Civil Conflict.” It shows a sharp escalation in sectarian violence since the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February, and tracks a further worsening this month despite a concerted American push to tamp down the violence in Baghdad.

In fashioning the index, the military is weighing factors like the ineffectual Iraqi police and the dwindling influence of moderate religious and political figures, rather than more traditional military measures such as the enemy’s fighting strength and the control of territory.

The conclusions the Central Command has drawn from these trends are not encouraging, according to a copy of the slide that was obtained by The New York Times. The slide shows Iraq as moving sharply away from “peace,” an ideal on the far left side of the chart, to a point much closer to the right side of the spectrum, a red zone marked “chaos.” As depicted in the command’s chart, the needle has been moving steadily toward the far right of the chart.

There are many negative and positive factors, some of which must be a bit subjective, which go into determining an assessment of where things are on the scale of peace or chaos. These are discussed in the NYT article, which also displays the "secret" chart.


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