NBC Deems Iraq To Be In 'Civil War'

Video Grab: NBC Today Show host Matt Lauer interviews retired general Barry McCaffrey. NBC calls the situation in Iraq "Civil War" NBC

NBC News and MSNBC broke away from the pack of mainstream media and decided to use the term "civil war" to describe current fighting in Iraq.

Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times became one of the first newspapers to use the term "civil war" without a qualifier.

"Apparently the utter chaos and carnage of the past week has finally convinced some to use 'civil war' without apology," Editor & Publisher reported.

Early Monday morning, Matt Lauer on the "Today" show bluntly laid out NBC News' decision to freely use the term "civil war," although the White House has consistently rejected claims that Iraq's sectarian violence had deteriorated into a civil war.

"For the most part, news organizations like NBC hesitated to characterize it as such. After careful consideration, NBC News has decided the change in terminology is warranted and what is going on in Iraq can now be characterized as civil war," Lauer said.

The reports were broadcasting as Iraqi President Jalal Talabani arrived for an official visit in Iran, where he is expected to seek its help in preventing Iraq's sectarian violence from escalating.

Also, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said Monday that Iraq is close to civil war. Annan talked to reporters in New York as members of the Iraq Study Group were to discuss recommendations for changes in U.S. war strategy.

Asked by reporters at the U.N. if Iraq is in a civil war now, Annan replied, "I think given the developments on the ground, unless something is done drastically and urgently to arrest the deteriorating situation, we could be there. In fact we are almost there."

Sectarian violence in Iraq is at its worst level in the roughly 3 1/2 years since a U.S.-led coalition invaded the country and toppled Saddam Hussein. Bush's summit this week comes in the wake of talks that Vice President Dick Cheney held over the weekend in the region and as members of the special study commission mull recommendations.

"We should mention we didn't wake up on a Monday morning and say, 'let's call this a civil war,' this took careful deliberation. We consulted with a lot of people," Lauer said.

Lauer then defined "civil war," saying it includes at least two clearly defined fighting groups using violence as a means to gain political supremacy and a government in place that is unable to control the violence.

The White House objected to NBC News' decision to use "civil war" and said in a statement: "While the situation on the ground is very serious, neither Prime Minister Maliki nor we believe that Iraq is in a civil war."

MSNBC's Contessa Brewer explained on air, "After careful thought, MSNBC and NBC News decided over the weekend, the terminology is appropriate, as armed militarized factions fight for their own political agendas. We'll have lots more on the situation in Iraq and the decision to use the phrase 'civil war.'"

Meanwhile in Iraq, a mortar attack ignited a huge fire Monday night at an oil facility in the northern part of the country, shutting the flow of crude oil to a major refinery. Also, a U.S. Air Force jet with one pilot aboard crashed in Anbar province, a hotbed of the Sunni-Arab insurgency, officials said. Al-Jazeera reported that the pilot was killed.

Two mortar rounds hit the facility 15 miles northwest of Kirkuk, according to an official at the North Oil Co., speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The fire was burning out of control and could take hours or longer to extinguish, and the flow of oil from all of Kirkuk's rich fields has been shut down to the massive Beiji refinery to the southwest, the official said.

After the F-16CG jet went down, a witness said other U.S. warplanes rushed to the crash site about 20 miles northwest of Baghdad and circled above it. The U.S. military, which released a statement on the crash, did not have any information on the suspected cause or the fate of the pilot.

But Al-Jazeera television showed videotape of the wreckage in a field and what appeared to be portions of a tangled parachute nearby. The broadcaster said the video included scenes of the dead pilot but that they were too graphic to air.

One shot showed an Air Force seal that said Air Combat Command.

  • Christine Lagorio