Iraq Unrest Prompts Questions of Civil War

Ashraf Qazi, the United Nations envoy to Iraq, talks with Steve Inskeep about whether the country is facing a civil war. Qazi says it is not, and that he is helping Iraqis form a stable government.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Here's an effort to understand the way the war in Iraq is changing: gunmen have attacked police stations in Iraq for two straight days. And that's the kind of attack that's on the rise. A former Iraqi prime minister says a civil war has begun, while President Bush said yesterday a civil war was avoided.

INSKEEP: One person who's closing watching the war in Iraq is the United Nations envoy to Baghdad.

Mr. ASHRAF KAZI (U.N. Envoy to Baghdad): Well, we are there. We are the third largest presence in Iraq, after the U.S. and the U.K.

INSKEEP: Uh-huh. How many people do you have?

Mr. KAZI: All together, including security, about 300.

INSKEEP: Ashraf Kazi says his job is to help Iraqis form a stable government. This week, the United Nations' envoy was in Washington to meet American officials, and he stopped by our studios to face the question on many people's minds.

At what point does the conflict in Iraq become a civil war?

Mr. KAZI: I anticipated that would be your first question. I don't think we're on the brink of a civil war in Iraq, but that's absolutely no reason to be complacent. A varied situation does exist there. The sectarian violence has increased.

INSKEEP: When we discussed this question of whether it is or isn't a civil war, are we getting hung up on words here, because the reality is Iraqis are killing Iraqis in large numbers?

Mr. KAZI: No, I think a civil war means a very definite thing. A civil war means there are two nationalisms, two organized armies, you know. Iraq is not going down that road. But it is still going through an extremely delicate phase, and if it's not addressed, then the whole political process could implode. And the state institutions, which need to be developed, won't develop.

There is a law and order problem that is not immediately amenable to solution, but has been controlled. The longer run prospect for the sectarian and security situation will depend on a government of national unity coming in to its existence fairly quickly.

INSKEEP: Is it dangerous the way that the negotiations are taking place? Because you have Shiites who are negotiating as Shiites. You have Sunnis who are negotiating as Sunnis, and Kurds who are negotiating as Kurds. It's different groups trying to divide up the government.

Mr. KAZI: I think that Iraq is certainly going through a phase of identity politics, but everybody seems to be aware that if you remain stuck in this phase, then it will be very difficult to build the national institutions and the national policies that are absolutely necessary for Iraq's future.

INSKEEP: What is something that you think that most Iraqis can agree on? It goes beyond the platitude like we all want peace, for example. What is something concrete that…

Mr. KAZI: That is not a platitude in Iraq. That's a life and death reality. You know, when people are confronted with the prospect of violence and even death, every day--so when they say we want peace, it's not a platitude…

INSKEEP: But is that pushing people together or pulling them apart?

Mr. KAZI: It is bringing people together, because on the street, the average Iraqi transcends the so-called sectarian divide every day--the way he interacts with his neighbor, the way he goes to market and buys things. He's vulnerable, of course. There are organized groups. He's not empowered as yet. But the attitude of the average Iraqi is, I'm Iraqi.

INSKEEP: Ashraf Kazi is the United Nations' envoy in Iraq. Thanks very much.

Mr. KAZI: Thank you.

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