Some leading US media outlets are now calling the violence raging in Iraq a "civil war," despite White House insistence that the strife has not reached that stage.
Editor and Publisher, a leading US news industry publication, described the decision to use the charged term as a "turning point."
"Apparently the utter chaos and carnage of the past week has finally convinced some to use `civil war' without apology," the magazine said in its online edition late on Monday.
NBC News became the latest news organization to use the term, saying the violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims combined with the government's inability to quell the strife fit the definition of civil war.
Matt Lauer, the presenter of NBC's Today morning show, said the network had thought carefully whether civil war was an appropriate phrase for the violence plaguing Iraq.
"We should mention we didn't wake up on a Monday morning and say, `Let's call this a civil war,'" Lauer said. "This took careful deliberation. We consulted with a lot of people."
Lauer and retired US general Barry McCaffrey, an NBC News military analyst, said a civil war opposes at least two sides using violence toward political ends in a country whose government cannot stop the conflict.
Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria wrote that "there can be no more doubt that Iraq is in a civil war, in which leaders of both its main communities, Sunnis and Shiites, are fomenting violence."
A fresh outbreak of violence left dozens dead in Iraq on Monday, four days after more than 200 people were killed in bombings in Baghdad's Shiite district of Sadr City.
The New York Times decided to use the phrase "civil war" after previously saying Iraq was "on the brink" of civil war, while the Los Angeles Times no longer uses quotation marks for the term.
"In the United States, the debate over the term rages because many politicians, especially those who support the war, believe there would be domestic political implications to declaring it a civil war," the influential daily said on Sunday.
"They fear that an acknowledgement by the White House and its allies would be seen as an admission of a failure of [US President George W.] Bush's Iraq policy," it said.
But New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said on Monday the daily would use the term judiciously.
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