The Iraq War: What You Need to Know

First is the Iraqi government, which also combines with foreign coalition forces. These two formal groups are up against Shiite and Sunni militias that are not only fighting against the government and coalition forces, but also each other.

Is Iraq in the midst of a civil war? If not, what is going on? Is al Qaeda behind the violence? Is it Hezbollah?

"I think that everyone looks at Iraq and sees Iraq as already in a civil war," said Tony Cordesman, an ABC News consultant and specialist on Iraqi conflict. "But the question is not whether it's in a civil war, but what level of civil war it's in."

There are at least 12 groups within the Sunni group that are causing violence, Cordesman says. Of those, three are major Islamic extremist groups of which al Qaeda is just one.

"Al Qaeda is the symbol of Islamic extremists that use car bombings and such to deliberately try to invoke civil war," Cordesman said. "It's succeeded to the point that it's no longer acknowledgeable who's responsible. You're looking at a kaleidoscope of different groups. Many push for national unity but have been involved in responding or causing sectarian violence."

"We should spend less time on whether civil war is a domestic political issue and take action," Nash said. "Once you're sure [it's a civil war], you're too late. That's the way it is in these things. Once you're sure, you're inevitably late in reacting."

Like al Qaeda, Hezbollah is a militant Muslim extremist group. But it is Shiite and based in Lebanon, a country neighboring Iraq with a vested interested in a Shiite government.

"Hezbollah is a very capable, military force, but it's also a social force and it's had great social and political impact in Lebanon," Nash said. "You see in these groups [al Qaeda and Hezbollah] a combination of the militias evolving from purely a military force into a force that also provides social services. … They deliver government services. They're the local and de facto government."

What are the big economic interests in Iraq? And who has these vested interests there? Saudis? Syrians? Iranians?

In a word, Iraq's economy is nonexistent. After years of war, there is virtually no infrastructure, foreign investment or business.

"Iraq at this point is a very fragmented structure," Cordesman said. "It is dominated still by state-run industries -- petroleum, cement and construction. … The other basic industry is agriculture, but the only agriculture commodity exported has been dates."

While a lot of money has come into Iraq for military purposes, war doesn't feed economic development, and most of the foreign aid has been wasted.

"What's an Iraqi do when he gets up in the morning?" Nash said. "Is there an opportunity for him to be successful and care for his family?"

"Economic opportunity for the people. That's a big deal," Nash said. "And they wonder when a guy has things blowing up around him all day, how does he make a buck? Well, he doesn't."

Salbi agrees.

"The Iraqi people talk about the military," she said. "But that's only the first sentence in the conversation. Economics and education, health conditions -- people in Iraq are still talking about developing the infrastructure of the country."

The Saudis, Syrians and Iranians have almost no unified interest in Iraq. The Saudis have focused on supporting national unity and preserving stability. Their main interest is to have a unified stable neighbor to the north.

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