Will Fourth Year Bring Civil War or Peace in Iraq?

March 19, 2006 — -- After three years at war, Iraq is at what many people believe to be a crossroads: There have been both tentative steps toward a stable democratic government and menacing moves toward civil war.

Since the invasion of Iraq, Americans have helped fix up 825 schools, 13 hospitals and 302 police stations -- but were also have been disgraced by the images of mistreatment at Abu Ghraib prison.

Iraqis have participated in two triumphant elections -- only to have the first full-term parliament meet for the first time this week for just 37 minutes.

Much like Iraqis, Americans are divided about the war, and more are losing faith. Only 42 percent now think the war was worth fighting -- down nearly 30 percent in three years.

Civil War?

After the bombing of a holy Shiite shrine last month, which set off a wave of religious violence, 80 percent of Americans now predict civil war.

Today, Iraq's former prime minister, Iyad Allawi, issued an ominous warning. He said the country is already in a civil war and "moving toward the point of no return."

U.S. officials insist a civil war is a ways off and say the best way to avoid disintegration is for Iraq's leaders to form a unity government that includes all three Iraq's main religious and ethnic groups.

"Success would be a reasonably stable, decent, pluralistic government," said Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International. "In the next three months, these are the make-or-break times for this national compact. It will either happen, or it won't -- and the Iraqis might have a civil war."

Iraqi Security Forces

U.S. officials add that the sooner Iraq has battle-worthy security forces, the sooner American troops can come home -- which is why the U.S. has made much of the prominent role Iraq has played in Operation Swarmer, the anti-insurgent offensive this weekend.

So far, anywhere from 30,000 to 75,000 Iraqis and more than 2,300 U.S. troops have died in this war. Fifteen Americans have been taken hostage, including journalist Jill Carroll, who is still missing.

While about 50 percent of Americans say the war has made them cry, and 90 percent say it's made them pray, it has not fundamentally changed most American lives.

But for people like Tammy Duckworth, one of more than 16,000 wounded veterans, it has changed everything. Her comrades dragged her to safety after a grenade hit her helicopter, blowing off her legs. She is now running for Congress.

"Sitting around feeling sorry for myself on a couch collecting my disability check doesn't get me anywhere," Duckworth said. "But getting out there and trying to make a difference, that's worth something. That's living up to the second chance my buddies gave me."