As Pentagon generals offered optimistic assessments that the sectarian violence in Iraq had dissipated this weekend, other military experts told ABC News that Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq already are engaged in a civil war, and that the Iraqi government and U.S. military had better accept that fact and adapt accordingly.
"We're in a civil war now; it's just that not everybody's joined in," said retired Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, a former military commander in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "The failure to understand that the civil war is already taking place, just not necessarily at the maximum level, means that our counter measures are inadequate and therefore dangerous to our long-term interest.
"It's our failure to understand reality that has caused us to be late throughout this experience of the last three years in Iraq," added Nash, who is an ABC News consultant.
Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told ABC News, "If you talk to U.S. intelligence officers and military people privately, they'd say we've been involved in low level civil war with very slowly increasing intensity since the transfer of power in June 2004."
Since the elections last year, Cordesman says, more radical Islamist insurgents have made "a more dedicated strike at the fault lines between Shiites and Sunnis." And they have succeeded.
In an interview on Fox News Sunday, however, U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, disputed that.
"I think that the Iraqi people -- Kurds, Shia, Sunni -- walked up to the abyss, took the look in, didn't like what they saw, have pulled together, have pulled back from violence, and are working together to keep things calm and to find the right mix for their own government," Pace said.
The sectarian violence over the weekend was lower in intensity than in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of the Askariya Mosque -- one of the holiest Shiite sites -- in Samarra on Feb. 22. But still, the sectarian violence continued.
On Saturday night, gunmen mowed down four people -- killing two of them -- at the Shiite Ahl al-Beit mosque in Kirkuk, North of Baghdad. On Sunday, at least two others were killed in a gun battle at the Sunni al-Noor mosque in the al-Jihad neighborhood of West Baghdad.
Shakir Mahmoud, a cleric at al-Noor mosque, claimed the attackers came from the Interior Ministry itself, which is controlled by Shiites and has been accused of allowing, if not permitting, Shiite militias.
"The group consisted of 10 cars, care used only by the Interior Ministry," Shakir said. "The uniforms are only worn by the Interior Ministry. They attacked the mosque."
The Interior Ministry denied the charge.
On Saturday in Doha, Qatar, the head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid, claimed al-Qaeda was responsible for the bombing of the Askariya Mosque, saying that the blast indicated the group was changing its goal and trying to start a civil war in Iraq. He allowed that it had worked, to an extent.
"They got more of a reaction from that than they had hoped for," Abizaid told the Associated Press. "I expect we'll see another attack in the near future on another symbol. They'll find some other place that's undefended, they'll strike it and they'll hope for more sectarian violence."