Major media outlets are beginning to recognize the obvious: Iraq is now in a state of civil war. The widely used term “sectarian violence” no longer describes the horrific bloodshed between Shiites and Sunnis that is tearing the country apart–with US soldiers stuck in the middle, unable to quell the violence.

“For months now the White House has rejected claims that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated into a civil war,” NBC’s Matt Lauer said yesterday, announcing his network’s new policy. “And, for the most part, news organizations like NBC have hesitated to characterize it as such. But after careful consideration, NBC News has decided a change in terminology is warranted–that the situation in Iraq with armed militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas–can now be characterized as a civil war.”

Added Time magazine‘s Michael Ware, one of the best reporters on the ground: “By any academic’s definition, this is civil war, organized conflict by two elements within a country to pursue the political center, with elements of ethnic cleansing, militia combat, family against family, neighbor against neighbor, with a degree of organization and coordination…So, whether the White House calls it civil war or not, the fact on the ground is, if this is not civil war, we don’t want to see one when it comes.”

The nature of the civil war undercuts many of the Bush Administration’s most basic assumptions and reasons for staying in Iraq.

1. This is not a war primarily between an Al-Qaeda led insurgency and Coalition forces. We’re not fighting ’em over there so we don’t have to fight ’em here.

2. It doesn’t make sense to train a Shiite-dominated Iraqi Army that will then slaughter Sunnis.

3. Even the solution reportedly peddled by the much-hyped Iraq Study Group–talking to Iran and Syria, while crucial and long overdue, won’t radically alter Iraq’s internal dynamics.

4. Quite frankly, this is not even a war strictly between Shiites and Sunnis.

“It’s worse than a civil war,” a senior member of Iraq’s government told the Washington Post. “In a civil war, you at least know which factions are fighting each other. We don’t even know that anymore. It’s so bloody confused.”

A Wall Street Journal poll before the election found that “a plurality of voters now see the situation in Iraq as a civil war among Iraqis, rather than a war between American troops and foreign terrorists.” It was virtually the only point on which Republicans and Democrats agreed. That was in mid-October, before the latest round of bloodshed. If the situation continued, predicted GOP pollster Bill McInturff, “that will ratchet up the pressure to terminate our deployment in Iraq.”