In fact most of the time only one force is even recognised as being active in this war. The primary focus has been on the insurgents, the various Islamic and Sunni groups who have been fighting the US, and the government we established there. Outside of a few incidents early in the occupation, the Shi'ias have been far more willing to keep their arms stored away.
This last week, a taste of the potential power that the Shia's possess has been given to the world. Various Shi'ia militias and ad hoc groups rose up, and the resulting killing was astounding.
Only the presence of US forces has prevented a much more traditional civil war. If either side tried to establish anything like a battle line or a fort, the US would destroy it almost immediately. So the combat remains at the level of terrorism and death squads. This fact doesn't mean that there are not further developments that clearly indicate an entrenching of the sectarian divide, and a further preparation for the coming open war.
The conflict in the Balkans clearly points us to what we will see next, and it is now happening.
BAGHDAD, Feb. 28 -- Salim Rashid, 34, a Shiite laborer in an overwhelmingly Sunni Arab village 20 miles north of Baghdad, received his eviction notice Friday from a man at the door with a rocket launcher.
"It's 6 p.m.," Rashid recounted the masked man saying then, as retaliatory violence between Shiites and Sunnis exploded across wide swaths of central Iraq. "We want you out of here by 8 p.m. tomorrow. If we find you here, we will kill you."
As long as the US has its forces in Iraq a civil war, featuring traditional combat, is very unlikely to occur. That doesn't mean there will not be a civil war going on. Ethnic cleansing is a clear indicator that the various sides are planning on grabbing as much land as they can and digging in. In the mean time, the bombings, the death squads and the misery will continue as the primary features of this civil war.
And we have 140,000 men and women in the middle of it.
Iraq Civil War Ethnic Cleansing