WASHINGTON -- Today's big debate over Iraq seems to be: Is there or is there not a civil war? Yes, say the defeatists, citing former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a man with an ax to grind against the current (elected) government that excluded him.
No, not really, not yet, not quite, say U.S. officials and commanders, as well as Iraq's president, also hardly the most neutral of observers.
This debate appears to be important because the perception that there has been an outbreak of civil war following the Samarra bombing pushed some waverers to jump ship on their support for the war. Most famous of these is William F. Buckley, who after Samarra declared that it is time for ``the acknowledgment of defeat.'' Defeat? Yes, because of the inability of the Iraqi people to ``suspend internal divisions'' to allow a new democratic order to emerge.
This whole debate about civil war is surreal. What is the insurgency if not a war supported by one (minority) part of Iraqi society fighting to prevent the birth of the new Iraqi state supported by another (majority) part of Iraqi society?
By definition that is civil war, and there's nothing new about it. As I noted here in November 2004: ``People keep warning about the danger of civil war. This is absurd. There already is a civil war. It is raging before our eyes. Problem is, only one side'' -- the Sunni insurgency -- ``is fighting it.''
Indeed, until very recently that has been the case: ex-Baathist insurgents (aided by the foreign jihadists) fighting on one side, with the United States fighting back in defense of a new Iraq dominated by Shiites and Kurds.
Now all of a sudden everyone is shocked, shocked to find Iraqis going after Iraqis. But is it not our entire counterinsurgency strategy to get Iraqis who believe in the new Iraq to fight Iraqis who want to restore Baathism or impose Taliban-like rule? Does not everyone who wishes us well support the strategy of standing up the Iraqis so we can stand down? And does that not mean getting the Iraqis to fight the civil war themselves?
Hence the gradual transfer of war-making responsibility. Hence the decline of American casualties. Hence the rise of Iraqi casualties.
What we don't want to see is the private militias taking the law into their own hands. The army, by all accounts, has remained cohesive with relatively good discipline. The problem is the police forces, which have been infiltrated by some of the Mahdi Army and other freelance Shiite vigilantes.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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