The U.S. Defense Department says the increasing sectarian violence in Iraq may be creating conditions that could lead to civil war, but that civil war can be avoided if current efforts to reduce the violence succeed.
In its congressionally-mandated quarterly report issued Friday, the Pentagon says military commanders in Iraq describe the security situation as the most complex since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
The report says fighting between Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs is on the rise, with weekly attacks by all groups up nearly 24-percent, and the number of casualties among Iraqi civilians is up by 51-percent.
The report, however, disputes the perception that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, noting that the new Iraqi security forces are remaining loyal to the government and increased security efforts may break the cycle of violence.
According to the report, Shi'ite and Sunni Arab militias have considerable support, with many Iraqis seeing them as protectors and providers of essential services.
Military officials say, however, the joint Iraqi-U.S. security operation in Baghdad is decreasing the violence and eroding support for the militias.