In Estonia on his way to meetings with Mideast leaders, President Bush would not utter the phrase "civil war" to describe the situation in Iraq, even though those are exactly the words critics and allies around the world are using to refer to the sectarian violence that has claimed hundreds of lives in just the past few days and plunged that country into chaos.
Bush, speaking with reporters en route to the NATO conference in Latvia, called the Iraq violence the work of al Qaeda, which he said is fueling the sectarian violence.
"The bombings that took place recently was a part of a pattern that has been going on for about nine months," Bush said. "I'm going to bring this subject up, of course, with [Iraqi] Prime Minister Maliki when I visit with him in Jordan on Thursday. My questions to him will be: 'What do we need to do to succeed? What is your strategy in dealing with the sectarian violence?'"
Some analysts say that approach may not be enough, though.
"The problem I think we really face isn't simply a matter of a civil war, it's an increasingly serious civil war," former Pentagon official Anthony Cordesman said. "So to deny it is, I think, foolish, particularly when it's quite clear it can explode into a nationwide conflict that can destroy the present government and our strategy in the country."
But Bush, while asserting that the United States will help, said that the Iraqis will take the lead in trying to resolve the situation.
"There's all kinds of speculation about what may be or not happening," Bush said. "What you're seeing on TV... started last February. It was an attempt by people to foment sectarian violence, and no -- no question it's dangerous there, and violent. And the Maliki government is going to have to deal with that violence, and we want to help them do so. It's in our interest that we succeed."
Critics say that there are some serious challenges to success. Cordesman, a Mideast expert at the Center for Strategic International Studies, traveled extensively to Iraq over the past four years to meet with U.S. military, civilian and Iraqi officials and has a grim outlook on the future of the Iraqi government.
"There's no way to give any really intelligence calculation, but I think the odds are less than 50-50 of it surviving for the next four to six months. They may be as bad as one in four," he said.
And, he said the United States is preparing for Iraq's government to fall.
"Beneath the rhetoric of planning and talk about options … people in the White House see this prospect as very, very real. They see it as something critical to try to prevent," Cordesman said.
Baghdad is now a battlefield, no neighborhood is safe from the violence. The mortar attacks last week that killed 230 in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City opened what a top White House official called "a new phase" -- and what nearly everyone else now agrees is a civil war.
And the violence is not just in Baghdad.
In the western part of the country, the Sunni insurgency rages on and is gaining strength as U.S. troops have been shifted to the battle for Baghdad.
In the North, Kurds and Sunnis are building up militias preparing for an all-out struggle for control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
And in the south, where British forces operate, radical Shiite militias are in control.
"The British have effectively been defeated in Basra and in the southeast. The city is a no-go zone," Cordesman said.