Is it a civil war, or just an insurgency? If it is not a civil war, can it grow into one, or is that unlikely? Where is this whole mess headed?
The Prime Minister of Iraq is trying to say on point, and stressing that there is not now now will there ever be a civil war. At the same time, we have another weekend with about one hundred more killed in sectarian violence.
One of the key points those trying to sell the idea that there is no civil war use to defend there position is the lack of standing armies engaged in open combat. While this is a feature of most civil wars, it is not always found in this period of high tech weapons. If the battle is likely to be too lopsided, the side with the ineffective weapons is smart to try to avoid open conflict.
In Iraq, the US force is so powerful no one will come out to confront them. That doesn't mean that the engaged forces will not find a way to make war. They will focus on soft targets, civilian populations and remote attacks. This has been the nature of what we have seen in Iraq for that last 3 years. These are all unconventional means of fighting, but can be very effective.
In Iraq this has resulted in hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, control of whole sections of the nation are now in flux. Major population centers are not under effective control of the nation government, but instead are being run by local anti-government groups. In the past few years the populations were so intermixed that battle lines could not be drawn, but this is changing.
Also changing is the nature of the civil conflict itself. The last 30 hours has seen open combat between militia forces of Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iraqi Army.
In the city of Diwaniyah, a Shia-dominated city 80 miles south of Baghdad, gun battles between Iraqi forces and militiamen of the Mahdi Army loyal to the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr left at least 34 people dead and about 70 wounded, Iraqi officials said.
The fighting broke out late last night when Iraqi soldiers conducted raids in three neighbourhoods to flush out the militiamen and seize weapons, Captain Fatik Aied, of the Iraqi army, said. The fighting continued today.
Mohammed Abdul-Muhsen of Diwaniyah general hospital said 34 bodies were brought in - 25 Iraqi soldiers, seven civilians and two militiamen. He said at least 70 people were injured.
This further weakens the argument that there is no civil war, there has now been what appears to be actual combat between two standing forces, a clear sign of what is coming.