How do you define a 'civil war'?

When does something become a 'civil war'? When the media say so? Or should there be some sort of definition.

One of the many offered by Wikipedia is that total deaths need to exceed 1,000, with at least 100 killed on each side. That seems rather all encompassing to me. Gang warfare exceeds that in a great many countries. Is it fair to say the FBI is engaged in a 'civil war' with organised crime?

Is Northern Ireland in a state of 'civil war'? Was it, from 1968 until the 1990s? I visited the province more than once, including, as a child, at the height of the violence in 1972. It did not strike me as a place in civil war. It was not somewhere a mother would hesitate to take her son.

I would suggest that one of the two criteria that follow needs to be met.

First, if substantial areas are under the control of a separate government. That, arguably, did apply in Northern Ireland in the early seventies. Certainly there were estates in Belfast and Londonderry that were not only dangerous for the police and army, but had actual checkpoints in and out. It is not enough, however, merely to say that there are some areas not under the control of the government. That applies in Paris every summer. An organised alternative military force is necessary.

Second, if political killings rise to a level that exceeds the ordinary murder rate for the territory in question, that could count as an insurgent civil war. No-one thinks that spousal abuse represents civil war between men and women, or that streetcrime is a civil war. But if deaths from political, ethnic and sectarian killings rise to the point where they exceed deaths from ordinary crime, perhaps that does meet the criterion.

On that basis, Iraq is nowhere near a civil war. Deaths from political violence in December were around 500 and from ordinary civilian murder around six times that.

No civil war here. Nothing to see. Move on now.

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