Expert on Iraq: 'We're In a Civil War'

ByABC News
March 5, 2006, 4:16 PM

BAGHDAD, March 5, 2006 — -- 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.