CNN's Baghdad reporter says Iraq is embroiled in "civil war," but rest of network is still hedging


In several reports from Baghdad, CNN's Michael Ware has stated that Iraq is embroiled in a civil war. However, several other CNN reporters and analysts have continued to avoid the unqualified use of the term "civil war."

Since November 21, CNN has featured several live reports from Baghdad by international correspondent Michael Ware, in which Ware has stated unequivocally that Iraq is embroiled in a civil war, even proclaiming that "anyone who still remains in doubt about whether this is civil war or not is suffering from the luxury of distance." Despite the declarations of Ware -- presumably one of CNN's best-informed resources -- several other CNN reporters and analysts have continued to hedge, going only so far as to question whether or not there is indeed a civil war going on, or describing the conflict as "sectarian violence," or "some type of civil war," but not a "definitive civil war."

Following NBC's November 27 announcement that the network had made an editorial decision to describe the conflict in Iraq as a "civil war," the weblog Think Progress noted that CNN is among several news outlets that "continue to avoid the phrase."

CNN Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre, another exception in addition to Ware, noted on the November 27 edition of Paula Zahn Now that the Bush administration has a clear interest in avoiding labeling the conflict a civil war:

MCINTYRE: But, you know, the real problem is here, is, there really isn't much debate among experts that this really is a civil war. To the extent people want to argue whether it is a low-level civil war, a full-blown civil war, it could be even a worse civil war, that's -- that's true.

The problem is that, once you label this a civil war, then, you have to admit that the strategy that the United States and the Iraqi government is employing is not the right strategy to end a civil war. So, they insist on not calling it a civil war.

During an October 20 press briefing, White House press secretary Tony Snow tried to dispel the idea that Iraq is in a "civil war" by comparing what he claimed was the situation in Iraq to "the general notion" of a civil war:

SNOW: I think the general notion is a civil war is when you have people who use the American Civil War or other civil wars as an example, where people break up into clearly identifiable feuding sides clashing for supremacy within [the land].


SNOW: At this point, you do have a lot of different forces that are trying to put pressure on the government and trying to undermine it. But it's not clear that they are operating as a unified force. You don't have a clearly identifiable leader. And so in this particular case, no.

What you do have is a number of different groups -- you know, they've been described in some cases as rejectionists, in others as terrorists. In many cases, they are not groups that would naturally get along, either, but they severally and together pose a threat to the government.

As noted on the weblog Eschaton (written by Atrios, Media Matters for America senior fellow Duncan Black), Ware asserted to anchor Kyra Phillips on the November 27 edition of CNN Newsroom that there is indeed a civil war in Iraq:

PHILLIPS: Michael Ware, interesting point as you give us these descriptions. All you can think about is, is there a civil war or not? Some journalists becoming a little more daring and saying, "Yes, there's a civil war going on here." Others not saying that.

[Jordan's] King Abdullah [II] doing an interview on ABC this week, saying, still, potential civil war. When exactly can you say as a journalist, as a politician, as an administration, "All right, there's a civil war going on right here"? This is how you define it.

WARE: Well, put it this way, this is the way I define it. It's that anyone who still remains in doubt about whether this is civil war or not is suffering from the luxury of distance.

You stand here on these streets, you take shelter in these families' homes. You dare to go out and try to go to work or, indeed, shop at a marketplace and you will know that this is civil war.

There are already signs of what technically could be declared ethnic cleansing. The United Nations says entire neighborhoods are being disrupted to various degrees. Communities being split. I mean, we have areas that people of one sect cannot enter for fear of immediate execution by another sect.

You drive in a minibus on your way to work. Suddenly, there's a checkpoint. If you're of the wrong faith, you are dead.

There's literally defensive fighting positions now built in some of these suburbs. And the Sadr City quarter of Baghdad, the Shia domain, where as much as half of the population lives, is essentially now a garrison, servicing outlying Shia militia outposts as it wages its retaliatory strikes for the deadly multiple car bombing on Thanksgiving Day, which saw 200 innocents slain in the streets of Sadr City.

If that's not civil war, if we don't have two sides of a nation going face to face, then, honestly, I don't know what is, Kyra.

On the November 24 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Ware reported that "for the people living on the streets, for Iraqis in their homes, if this is not civil war, or a form of it, then they do not want to see what one really looks like," adding:

WARE: I mean, if this is not civil war, where there is, on average, 40 to 50 tortured, mutilated, executed bodies showing up on the capital streets each morning, where we have thousands of unaccounted for dead bodies mounting up every month, and where the list of those who have simply disappeared for the sake of the fact that they have the wrong name, a name that is either Sunni or Shia, so much so that we have people getting dual identity cards, where parents cannot send their children to school, because they have to cross a sectarian line, then, goodness me, I don't want to see what a civil war looks like either if this isn't one.

On the November 21 edition of Anderson Cooper 360, Ware responded to guest host John Roberts' question about whether the Iraqi government could limit Iran and Syria's influence on the conflict, saying: "Well, they could do that, and that would curb the limit of their involvement, but the fact is that the civil war here in Iraq, that stemmed from those circumstances under the American occupation, now has its own momentum."

Ware's CNN colleagues, however, have not wholly embraced his assessment of the conflict. As Think Progress noted, on the November 27 edition of CNN's American Morning, correspondent Bob Franken reported that "President Bush is focused on what can be done in Iraq without leaving behind a country consumed by sectarian war." On the November 27 edition of Anderson Cooper 360, host Anderson Cooper noted: "An extraordinary meeting took place in Tehran today, a meeting that might symbolize the Middle East shifting political landscape in the wake of the sectarian violence that has engulfed Iraq." On the November 24 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux reported that there are "growing doubts about [Iraqi prime minister Nuri Kamal al-] Maliki's ability to prevent his country from deteriorating into civil war," while guest host John King reported that there are "fears of an all-out civil war," and that there is "surging sectarian violence in Iraq, with U.S. forces caught in the middle."

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