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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 November 2006, 10:27 GMT
US media talk of Iraq civil war
By James Coomarasamy
BBC News, Washington

Shia militia man in Baghdad
Some outlets say it is hard to argue the Iraq conflict is not a civil war
In a challenge to the White House, some US media outlets have begun to refer to the fighting in Iraq as a civil war.

The New York Times is the latest publication to take the decision following the NBC network's highly-publicised move on Monday.

The paper's executive editor, Bill Keller, said it is hard to argue that this war does not fit the generally accepted definition of civil war.

The Bush administration maintains the term civil war is inappropriate.

'War of semantics'

In Washington, a war of semantics has broken out over whether the conflict in Iraq can be called a civil war.

Just what is the definition of a civil war, of course, has been the subject of much debate since NBC's decision to defy White House objections and use the phrase.

President George Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, has said the Iraqi government does not see it in those terms, while the president himself described the latest attacks as part of an ongoing campaign by al-Qaeda militants.

With so many lives being lost on a daily basis in Iraq, it might seem like an esoteric argument that it could have real consequences both for US public opinion and for US policy.

Senator John Warner is among the leading Republicans who suggested that Congress would need to re-authorise US troop presence in Iraq if the situation there descended into civil war, while Mr Bush has said the role of the American military was not to stand between warring sectarian factions.

If the American public comes to believe that is what its troops are doing, the pressure to pull them out is bound to increase.

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