Just how bad are things in Iraq these days? According to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on Monday, the country is experiencing a civil war. Worse, he said, in an interview with BBC, that life was better under dictator Saddam Hussein than it is today.
"They had a dictator who was brutal but they had their streets, they could go out, their kids could go to school and come back home without a mother or father worrying, 'Am I going to see my child again?'" Annan said in the interview, which was recorded over the weekend but aired on Monday.
His comments come less than a month after Saddam Hussein was sentenced to hang for atrocities committed against the citizens he ruled. But it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the scope of the violence in the war-torn country.
A mortar attack combined with a series of car bombs on Nov. 23 killed 215 people in a Shiite district of Baghdad -- the single deadliest attack during the war. Shiites quickly responded by executing a number of Sunnis. On Saturday three car bombs killed 69 people at a food market in a predominantly Shiite area of the capital.
When asked whether the violence in Iraq constituted a civil war, Annan said "when we had the strife in Lebanon and other places, we called that a civil war. This is much worse." Annan's comments come during an ongoing semantic debate over whether Iraq's situation can be classified as civil war. Less than a week ago, former US Secretary of State Colin Powell said "I would call it a civil war because I like to face the reality." He said world leaders should acknowledge that reality, too.
The Bush Administration has repeatedly rejected the phrase "civil war" to describe the situation in Iraq. When asked last week in Estonia whether the situation had descended into civil war, Bush replied "there's all kinds of speculation about what may or may not be happening. No question, it's tough."
The administration has, though, voiced the need for a new course in Iraq. The New York Times reported over the weekend that, just prior to his resignation as defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld sent a memo to President Bush saying "clearly what US forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough."
For his part, Annan wants to hold an international conference on Iraq's future. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani rejected Annan's proposal over the weekend, saying the country was dealing with its problems through its own internal political and legal structures.
Annan also said that the UN hasn't yet fully recovered from being circumvented by the US and its coalition of the willing prior to the Iraq invasion. South Korean diplomat Ban Ki-moon, set to take over from Annan as secretary general on Jan. 1, will have to pick up the pieces when Annan steps down. Annan said, "it's healing but we are not there yet, it hasn't healed yet, and we feel the tension still in this organization as a result of that."
The UN's relationship to the US is likely to change soon, too. President Bush on Monday accepted the resignation of his controversial ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, who will step down sometime before early January.