AC: Inside the insurgency

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JOHN ROBERTS: Today those Iraq War casualty numbers climbed higher. The Pentagon reported that nine U.S. troops were killed in Iraq. They died in insurgent attacks in Anbar Province.

Also, this is the aftermath of a car bomb in Baghdad, one of two in the city today that killed at least 10 people and wounded dozens more.

The violence follows the surprise visit to Iraq by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She was there to apply some diplomatic pressure, urging the Iraqi leaders to stop fighting and create a unified government.

There's been a lot of talk lately about civil war in Iraq. But how do insurgents feel about it? That's what Michael Ware went to find out. The "TIME Magazine" Baghdad bureau chief spent time inside the insurgency. He was with both the Sunni and Shiite militias.

Michael Ware joins us now from Baghdad to talk about his trip behind enemy lines.

And Michael, we heard Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi say a couple of weeks back, that the country was in the throes of a civil war. Obviously there might have been a political component to what he had to say. But how are the insurgents actually feeling about it? Do they believe that they're in the throes of a civil war?

MICHAEL WARE, "TIME MAGAZINE" CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is the strange thing, John. No, the insurgence and the Shiite militia commanders that I spoke to -- and I went to as many as I possibly could -- say no, we are not yet in a civil war. They all admit that there are death squads roaming unchecked through the capitol, Baghdad, and beyond. They say that there is a high level of sectarian violence. Sunni killing Shia and Shia killing Sunni, yet they say this does not make a civil war.

And what the bulk of the insurgency and the bulk of the militias are saying is, "we don't want civil war. It's not in our interests at this point."

And indeed, we're seeing ongoing cooperation between the Sunni and the Shia against what they say is the main focus. The main game is the common enemy, and that is the American military.

ROBERTS: Well, when they say it's not in our interests at this point to be involved in a civil war, it sounds like it's definitely something that they're thinking about.

WARE: Well, absolutely, John. I mean, all of these men, I said to them, well, if a civil war erupts, what will you do? Each one of them swore that, "we will be on the frontlines." So I've been speaking to the trigger pullers who will be manning the barricades, should a civil war erupt.

Yet one of the other interesting things about this is the assessment from these men matches precisely the assessment of U.S. military intelligence here in Iraq.

U.S. military intelligence believes it's the extremists on both ends who are trying to drag the middle ground into this conflict. And that was reflected by these insurgent and militia commanders.

ROBERTS: You know, Michael, a lot of this sounds like a real game of semantics. They say that they're not in a civil war, they don't want a civil war. But as you said, there are these death squads roaming around unchecked. There are certainly an awful lot of insurgent attacks, not only against U.S. forces, but against Sunnis and Shiites. I mean, is there not some sort of low level civil war going on right now?

WARE: Well, personally, John, yes, I believe there is. It's my opinion that there's been an undeclared or low-boil civil war here for well over a year.

Now, there was one insurgent commander who agreed with that view. He said that with the level of deaths, it's clear that there is a pattern that is emerging of an eradication of Iraqi Sunnis.

Now, that may be extreme. Yet nonetheless, U.S. military officials do confirm that there are as many as 25 bodies showing up every morning in Baghdad alone. Former Prime Minister Allawi, America's chief political ally in this country, says there's as many as 50 to 60 showing up a day.

So the questions about what makes a civil war: how many people need to die, and for what reason? What these insurgent commanders are saying, however, I think, is that, "well, that is not at the moment our principal focus. And we have not yet taken to the front lines along the sectarian divide, but we do have the death squads out there clearing things up and probing."

ROBERTS: Yes, well certainly, Michael Ware, if there was some form of ethnic cleansing going on, even at the lowest levels, I mean, that would be an indication that something bad is definitely going on there.

Thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate you being with us, as always. Michael Ware, from Baghdad, "TIME Magazine" bureau chief there -- Heidi.