Mechanical

Iraqi Civil War

Everyone keeps talking about a civil war in Iraq as if such a thing hasn't been going on for months. San Jose Mercury News asks what a civil war would look like. In the process, they describe the current state of Baghdad:

Corpses, coldly executed, are turning up by the minibus-load. Mortar shells are casually lobbed into rival neighborhoods. Car bombs are killing people wholesale, while assassins hunt them down one by one.

Whew! I'm sure glad that's not a civil war.

So if we refuse to call a civil war a civil war, does this make people feel better or something?

OK, I fess up. I didn't pull out a dictionary and look up "civil war". Can someone please tell me what one is and why Iraq doesn't qualify?

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Let me check my Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. So ... markup all mine:

civil war: war between groups of citizens of the same country

Right. Then, what I assume to be the relevant definition:

war: (state of) fighting between nations or groups within a nation using military force

Okay. So again what seems relevant:

military: of or for soldiers or an army

The term "soldier" is defined in terms of an "army", and so:

army: part of a country's military forces [...]

Recursion detected! Bailing out!
I remember wondering once while I was walking — what is the minimum set of words you need to know before you can define all of English? (minimum axiom set, if you like) (relative to a specific dictionary)

You could represent your dictionary as a directed graph, with an edge from each word to each other word used in that word's definition. Directed cycles are obviously the thing you want to kill. But finding a smallest set of nodes to remove to break all cycles sounds hard :-)
Any dictionary is either going to be recursive or contain undefined words in definitions. So far in several years of looking (god that makes me sound so sad) I've only found one of the latter, and that was only in a small dictionary (Chambers) anyway.

Given a full-size dictionary like the OED I would imagine you could get away with a very few axioms. More axioms would be required for smaller dictionaries, obviously. Perhaps a good place to start would be to consider how you would go about deciphering an unknown language.

Imagine that an archaeological dig in Italy finds a stash of written materials in the Greek alphabet but an unknown language. Carbon-dating and other artifacts indicate that it was written around the time of the founding of Rome. How many words from this unknown language would have to have been borrowed into Latin for you to be able to unravel the rest of it?
Civil War is generally described as when factions within the same country are in conflict, i.e. the current government and other factions who seek to take control of the state (as far as I can gather there is no political stability for the duration).

I think there are additional criteria (and pretty arbitrary they seem) for labelling something as a 'civil war' while it is actually happening - conventionally fought battles, prolonged violence (however you're planning on defining 'prolonged'), etc. Once the event has passed historians seem free to label things as they wish (civil war, insurgency, revolution...).

There are also criteria such as battle deaths which seem to be relevant to the classification (1000 battle deaths due to intrastate conflict = civil war). Battle deaths meaning combatant against combatant - hence why the Northern Ireland conflict cannot be classed as a civil war. Also at least 100 of these dead must be on the side of the government.

As far as I have followed on the BBC, the Iraqi government is dominated by Shiite and Kurdish representatives and thus is biased towards them. The recent final draft of the constitution is skewed heavily towards Shiite and Kurdish interests with the Sunni's becoming increasingly marginalised. There will be a referendum soon on the constitution where it could be rejected by the Sunnis.

So essentially, although the government is weak and riddled with problems, there is still a political process to be observed and I believe that while this is the case intrastate conflict in Iraq won't be classified as a civil war. If any of the three main parties makes a push for total control, fully mobilises its militias, or stops trying to forge links with the others they might well rethink the classification.

That's as far as I've managed to follow it ;)
Well, damn. That's a heck of a lot more thought than most folks give.

Personally, I think the Iraqi civil war is, as we're seeing more and more of these days, an "unconventional" war. It consists of guerillas and/or terrorists (I think the latter is applicable here) doing their best to destabilize the government so their preferred factions can gain power.

Whether or not this will ever become a normal "one army over here", "one army over there" war is questionable.
I strongly recommend Colonel Hammes' "The Sling and the Stone" for analysis on 4th Generation War (targeting political centers of gravity).
I think as time passes 'traditional warfare' will become far rarer. After all if I were in charge of an army I would want to inflict the most damage on the other side with the least cost to my own force. Therefore bombing from a huge distance, guerilla tactics and all the rest of it would seem far preferable to sending them all out onto a field for a big old scuffle in the mud.

I would guess that warfare has always been trying to move away from the lots of men on a field approach. Starting with "my army is higher up the hill than yours", moving to "And we have bigger horses and longer sticks", to "Did I mention the guns and cannons?", and "What landmines? Oh... *those* landmines", ending up with "Wait til you see what we did to the atom".
No, the absence of a government would mean anarchy. Civil wars are often conducted with a government in existence.

The nature of conflict in the 21st century (as detailed by Colonel Hammes and others) can allow for combatants to also be a part of the political process. Sinn Fein is an example, as is Sunni insurgents voting then bombing.

This is a sectarian insurgency. It is going to become a civil war (if it is not one already) in the near future.
I didn't mean the absence of govenment as such, I just meant that the authority/legitimacy of the government is severely threatened for the duration and may be replaced. I'm not pretending to be an authority, but that's as much as I've gathered just trying to keep up with the news. Coupled with snatches of history lessons and hours of surfing the net in search of distractions from current work!