By tracking the amount of light emitted by Baghdad neighborhoods at night, a team of UCLA geographers has uncovered fresh evidence that last year’s U.S. troop surge in Iraq may not have been as effective at improving security as some U.S. officials have maintained.
Night light in neighborhoods populated primarily by embattled Sunni residents declined dramatically just before the February 2007 surge and never returned, suggesting that ethnic cleansing by rival Shiites may have been largely responsible for the decrease in violence for which the U.S. military has claimed credit, the team reports in a new study based on publicly available satellite imagery.
“Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning,” said lead author John Agnew, a UCLA professor of geography and authority on ethnic conflict. “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.”
The surge as John Robb long ago pointed out was not winning but rather acceding to the reality of militia control of Iraq. [Really that started with the Anbar Awakening which contra McCain preceded the Surge but whatever…]
The issue as I tried to make clear in the previous post (one among many) is the centrality of the political. The surge can not succeed (or frankly fail) when it is hooked to a unreachable political goal with an overall strategy (national reconciliation) which itself can never be achieved because it is a strategy attempting to reach an unreachable point (goal of democratic, unified Iraq).
Particularly when the surge follows on the reality of ethnic cleansing because the cleansing is at heart political: namely the fight over who gets to control the corpse of what used to be the Iraqi state. The “failure” goes back to the inabiilty to “mind the gap” created in the wake of the destruction of the Baath police state in 2003-2004!!!! The peace was already lost (i.e. two years+ prior to the surge). Once it became clear that the US was not going to fill the vacuum, and that everything was returning to a Hobbesian state (weirdly with a Leviathan there but not a backup to deal with state formation)–i.e. the war of all against all–the Shia and Sunni got on doing what they had to do in that situation….a civil war.
The Surge following upon all that could not and did not reverse that reality. How could it? How could in a post-ethnic cleansing situation could anyone ever seriously ask about winning or success? When hundreds of thousands are dead and millions more are refugees?
What the Surge did do was prevent the vacuum from being filled–hence the anger of Maliki at the US for financing the Sunni Awakening Councils which he correctly perceives as a threat and not getting out fast enough. He wants to fill that vacuum. We will see whether the Surge has allowed groups to re-arm providing them the (false imo) hope of an attempt to recolonize and undo the ethnic cleansing. If so, it is going to be scary violent.