updated 3/15/2007 10:00:39 AM ET 2007-03-15T14:00:39

The U.S. military for the first time Wednesday said in a new report that some of the violence in Iraq can be described as a civil war.

In its bleakest assessment of the war to date, a quarterly Pentagon report said that last October through December was the most violent three-month period since 2003. Attacks and casualties suffered by coalition and Iraqi forces and civilians were higher than any other similar time span, said the report.

Most of the data in the Pentagon’s 42-page report is before President Bush ordered an additional 21,500 troops and thousands of support personnel to Baghdad to deal with the escalating violence there. The report cautions that it should be considered “a baseline from which to measure future progress.”

Members of the Bush administration have been loath to say that the U.S. military is struggling to quell a civil war, and the report agreed that the term does not capture the complex situation there.

But it added, “Some elements of the situation in Iraq are properly descriptive of a ’civil war,’ including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities and mobilization, the changing character of the violence and population displacements.”

A similar assessment released by the U.S. intelligence community last month came to roughly the same conclusion.

Iraqis flee country
The Pentagon’s report is the latest in a series of quarterly updates put out by the Pentagon, measuring the security and stability in Iraq. In detailing the increase in violence, the report said that 80 percent of the attacks from November through January were concentrated in four provinces — Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala and Salah ad Din — with Baghdad seeing a record 45 attacks per day. The other three provinces saw more than 70 attacks per day, during the same time frame.

The report showed that there were an average of more than 1,000 attacks per week, compared to nearly 1,000 per week in the last quarter, and about 800 per week during the May-to-August period. The reports provide bar charts but no exact numbers.

It also noted that while most of the attacks are directed against coalition forces, the majority of the casualties are suffered by the Iraqi people.

As a positive note, the report said the Iraqi government is taking some steps to improve its economy and stabilize the political situation. But it also found that two-thirds of the Iraqi people believe that conditions are worsening, and as many as 9,000 are fleeing the country each month.

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