Expert: Ethnic Cleansing, Not Surge, Securing Iraq

19.09.08

Categorie: Iraq |

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?

(Photo: me)

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5 Responses to “Expert: Ethnic Cleansing, Not Surge, Securing Iraq”

  1. Patton says:

    I’m not an expert, but I would think it would be probable that it wasn’t just the Awakening, or the surge, or the change in tactics.

  2. David,

    Most probably, one must account of the recent progress in security trends using all these factors… But, I think one has to consider the following: political and military decisions by US at the tactical, operational and national levels were the key factors.. More importantly, these decisions operated as complementary factors, with a large part of these consciously linked and another factors with inattended effects.
    In historical terms, one has to speak of a virtuous circle instead of a previously vicious circle..
    No doubt ethnic cleansing played an important role… but it can’t alone served as an explanation for larger phenomenon like the political reintegration of Sunnis.
    Cordialement
    Stéphane

  3. Joshua Foust says:

    That study was crap, however: it confused correlation with causation, and offered no explanation for reasons lights in any given area would be turned off beyond ethnic cleansing.

  4. Lumberjack says:

    Just one problem, his December 16 2007 data, which was supposed to show less prosperity (as reflected by the lights) was taken at 11:00 PM. All the other data sets were taken at 9:00 PM.

    http://www.envplan.com/abstract.cgi?id=a41200

    Fewer lights at 11PM than at 9PM ? Well, duh.

  5. dam says:

    Lumberjack, I’m afraid you don’t understand how to interpret the data. The study shows variation in lights in different sectors of the city relative to one another over time. It may be true that there are fewer lights on at 11pm, but this would be true across the city as a whole. So it does not change the fact that certain sectors of the city are almost entirely absent light (and hence populations), relative to others sectors. See p. 2289 of the article: “The decrease in nightime light signature was not uniformly distributed across the city.”

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