With no "viable political road map," Iraq's fate will be decided by violence instead of through negotiations, an expert on politics and religion in the Middle East says.
The Bush administration dislikes the term, but in recent days, some influential people, including former President Clinton and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, have characterized the spiraling sectarian violence in Iraq as a civil war.
Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future and a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, says it's becoming increasingly difficult for the United States to prevent Iraq from sliding into a full-scale civil war.
"We are not able to control events that keep escalating," Nasr tells Steve Inskeep. "We might be able to control the tempo of it, but we cannot easily stop it at this juncture."
A civil war isn't necessary, Nasr says, "but it is necessary to finalize the distribution of power in Iraq. And without a viable political road map, one that the various factions are willing to sit down and negotiate around, increasingly it's evident that the fate of the country is going to be decided by gunmen on the street, and that's what we're increasingly seeing...."
What would happen if the U.S. stepped out of the way?
"There would be a big battle for power in Baghdad and also there would be a big battle between the Shiites and Sunnis and ultimately between the Sunnis and the Kurds over who gets what and where does each stand once the dust settles," Nasr says.
It would be a "much more severe conflict -- which then we can actually call a civil war -- over who gets Baghdad, who gets Kirkuk, who gets Mosul, and where... the ultimate lines between these constituent parts of Iraq will lay."
Though elections were held, and a government has been seated, Nasr says a framework for negotiations among Iraq's various factions is still missing.
"What is the framework around which they should begin the negotiations? A year ago, we presented the idea of a national unity government and power-sharing around constitutional renegotiations. A year into the process, nothing has happened. It's clear that there is no framework for discussions. There is good intention -- everybody wants to discuss -- but nobody knows what... they, in practice, will be discussing."
The Sunnis, who have been behind much of the insurgency, have felt left out of the process, Nasr says.
"The Sunnis agreed to join the political process at the end of 2005 on the condition that the key provisions of the constitution would be renegotiated. None of that has actually happened. You have a political process in Iraq, but we haven't moved forward in the direction of realistic power-sharing that will make Iraq work."