The big mess in Iraq just keeps getting worse. Almost every day we have more explosions, and they get progressively more deadly.
The number of Iraqis killed now averages about 100 per day, with at least 70,000 dead so far. Iraq now has the highest child mortality rate in the world as a direct result of the conflict.
The number of U.S. troops killed is about 3,400 to date, averaging about 100 per month, plus 10 times that number of injuries. Many come home missing body parts or with other serious injuries or psychological trauma.
As bad as these numbers are, the worst part is that they are escalating.
Most of the casualties are the result of Iraqis fighting each other. Both sides are very happy to kill Americans when they can, but most of the conflict is between Sunnis and Shiites. Almost everybody but George W. Bush now acknowledges this has become a full-fledged civil war. Why?
Both factions are Iraqi, Arab and Muslim. They venerate the same prophet. They revere the same Quran - which has only one official version instead of multiple translations like the Bible. Why do they hate each other so much?
Some of the animosity is historical. When the Prophet Muhammad died without naming a successor, immediate disagreement arose about who should become the new leader of the new religion. Two factions developed, which eventually became the Sunnis and the Shiites. Through the past 13 centuries they sometimes have fought each other and sometimes lived together in relative peace. Intermarriage happened.
Sunnis always have been the largest group - they make up almost 90 percent of Muslims in the world. Because of centuries of social, political and economic inequality, the Shiites feel oppressed, and they see the Sunnis as their oppressors.
In Iraq, the Shiites have numerical superiority, but even there Saddam Hussein's Sunni government dominated them. Then the U.S. invaded and toppled Saddam and installed a Shiite government, and now we have The Big Mess.
The two sects made some effort at cooperation until this past year when Sunni extremists bombed the golden-domed Shiite mosque in Samarra. At first, only the extremists on both sides reacted, but now it has escalated into mainstream hatred, which is destroying neighborhoods and society in general.
Kidnapping, torture and execution are commonplace - tit for tat. U.S. troops try to halt the killings, without much success. Instead, we're accused of joining the fighting - usually on the side of the Sunnis, Saddam's old team. And a hundred Americans die each month for this.
Iraq's Parliament is dysfunctional. Sunnis and Shiites won't cooperate, and all of our prodding and cajoling have accomplished little. When Parliament announced it would take a two-month vacation in July and August, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney went to Baghdad and told them that was not acceptable to us, but I've heard of no change in their vacation plans.
President Bush's "surge" will not succeed either. It can shift the time or place for fighting, but it won't cure the problem. And we cannot stay there forever. Bush is trying to save face, and put blame on the Iraqis for not cooperating, then pass the buck to the next president.
Even scarier is the fact that this conflict may spread and we're right in the middle of it.
Iran is the nucleus of Shiite Islam, and it's also the largest and most powerful nation in the Middle East. They support the Shiite militias in Iraq, which is next door, so Iraq's Sunni minority is trying to arouse sympathy and support from other Sunni nations. It's working. The Arab Sunni governments are concerned that those "Persian" Shiites in Iran are trying to dominate the Middle East, and they definitely do not want that.
We'll look at that aspect next time.