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What is a civil war?

Lessons from history suggest that Iraq, though in chaos, has not yet reached civil war

By John Keegan   December 2006

What is civil war? The question is often raised about the disorders in Iraq. Does the violence between Iraqi religious and political factions amount to civil war, or is it best described another way? The US-led coalition’s spokesmen, echoing the views of the White House and Downing Street, refuse to call the disorders civil war. Presumably they believe that to do so would be to admit defeat in their project to set up a stable, legitimate new Iraq.

To assess the situation in Iraq, it is helpful to understand how a civil war differs from an inter-state, cross-border war. There…

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