Did a shift in U.S. tactics plus an extra 30,000 troops fuel Iraq’s steadily improving security? Or did Iraq’s ethnic violence, pitting Shia against Sunni in the wake of the 2006 shrine bombing, simply play itself out, independent of U.S. involvement?
One group of researchers, using Air Force satellite imagery to track nighttime light patterns, insist the latter is a bigger factor than most people previously acknowledged:
“By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left,” geography professor John Agnew of the University of California Los Angeles, who led the study, said in a statement.
“Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of inter-communal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning,” said Agnew, who studies ethnic conflict.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Gian Gentile, in a seminal piece for World Politics Review, seconded the notion that many observers have “misread” the surge. Still, his take on Iraq’s improving security is slightly different than Agnew’s:
The reduction in violence has had more to do with the Iraqis than the Americans. First, senior American leaders began paying our former enemies — non-Al-Qaeda Sunni insurgents — large amounts of money to become U.S. allies in fighting Al Qaeda. Second, the Shi’ite militia leader Moqtada Al Sadr announced a six-month ceasefire and stood down his attacks against Iraqi Sunnis and coalition forces; recently, he extended the cease-fire for another six months. Absent those two necessary conditions, there would have been no let up in the level of violence despite the surge.
A modest proposal: is it possible that everyone is right? That improved U.S. tactics, a small number of reinforcements, Al Sadr’s ceasefire and the self-segregation of a warring mixed population ALL are factors in Iraq’s improving security?