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Once and for all: there is no civil war in Iraq …

Seriously.
 
 
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A civil war is a domestic conflict. In that sense, it's true what the hawks say: there is no civil war going on in Iraq.

There's a conflict for which we don't really have a name -- an intra-state conflict precipitated by an inter-state clash.

To say that there's a civil war in Iraq -- a country that's never experienced civil war in the past -- is to absolve the American government of its responsibility for creating a situation in which civil conflict could thrive. We took a stable-if-brutally-unjust country and created an unstable and equally unjust nightmare of a conflict zone.

We did it by bungling the political process and with our feeble, graft-plagued efforts to rebuild the country. As I've written before, "If one were to sit down and consciously map out how best to ignite such a conflict, one would be hard-pressed to do a better job than the Bush administration has done." Calling it a civil war let's the war-hawks off the hook for their crimes.

Anyway, whatever you want to call it, it's raging away on a whole new level. The worst-case scenario is that the last few days marked the beginning of what Juan Cole has been worried about for months: set-piece battles like those that racked Beirut in the late 1970s and early 1980s breaking out in Iraq.

Here's the latest from Reuters ( via Truthout):

Snipers held rooftop positions as masked Sunni Arab insurgents said they were gearing up for another open street battle with pro-government Shi'ite militiamen in Baghdad's Adhamiya district on Tuesday.

The Arab Sunni stronghold is still feeling ripples from overnight clashes on Monday that appeared to be the closest yet to all-out sectarian fighting.

It's a reality that has Washington scrambling to avert civil war as Iraqi politicians struggle to form a government four months after parliamentary elections.

A US military spokesman said 50 insurgents attacked Iraqi forces in the middle of the night in a seven-hour battle that killed five rebels and wounded an Iraqi soldier.

Fighting was so fierce that US reinforcements were brought in to the northern district, home to some of Iraq's most hardcore Sunni guerrillas and the Abu Hanifa mosque, near where Saddam Hussein was last seen in public before going into hiding.

Sporadic fighting continued on Tuesday. […]

While the February bombing of a Shi'ite shrine pushed Iraq to the edge of civil war and left hundreds of bodies with bullet holes and torture marks on the streets, the scenario in Adhamiya is more alarming, despite fewer casualties.

It appeared to be the first example of a large-scale, open sectarian street battle in the capital, if not all of Iraq.

The boldness of the attack was a stark reminder of the security nightmare that will challenge the new government, which will face a Sunni insurgency that has killed many thousands of Shi'ite security forces and civilians.

My God, what have we wrought?

Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer .