US President George W. Bush's administration continues to insist Iraq is not heading toward a civil war, even as some senators and military leaders have expressed concerns that such a conflict may be inevitable.
"It would be, really, erroneous to say that the Iraqis are somehow making a choice for civil war, or, I think, even sliding into civil war," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday on ABC's This Week.
But Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, an influential member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sounded more pessimistic and questioned whether the US should keep sending more troops to Iraq.
Hagel said this country cannot "ask them to do the things that we're asking them to do in the middle of a civil war, and that's where it's headed."
"We're ruining our United States Army. We are decimating our army. We can't continue with the tempo and the commitment that we are on right now," Hagel said on CBS' Face the Nation.
Early yesterday, fighting erupted in a Shiite militia stronghold in Baghdad, and a suicide bomber blew himself up among mourners at a funeral in Saddam Hussein's hometown, killing 10 people and injuring 22.
Three US soldiers were killed late on Sunday in a roadside bombing southwest of Baghdad, the US military said. No further details were released.
Also on Sunday, scattered clashes broke out between Shiite militiamen and Iraqi soldiers near Hamza Square on the edge of Sadr City, police said.
The Bush administration has been reluctant to characterize the sectarian violence in Iraq as a civil war. But on Thursday, General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General John Abizaid, the top US commander in the Middle East, told a Senate committee that it could lead to that.
Another senator was even more pessimistic on Sunday.
"This is a civil war. I think the generals, the other day, were cautious in their language. But I think they were telling us something loud and clear to anyone who wanted to listen," Senator Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, said on Face the Nation. "I frankly don't believe that US military people can necessarily play referee in that kind of a situation."
Both Dodd and Hagel encouraged more involvement and discussions with other countries in the Middle East.
Hagel said Bush should get his father and former president Bill Clinton involved in a regional summit. But he also acknowledged that the prospects for success would be unlikely.
"There are no good options here, no good options," Hagel said.