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Baghdad Nights
September 23, 2008 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Baghdad nights: evaluating the US military ‘surge’ using nighttime light signatures (PDF). A team of UCLA geographers using satellite imagery to track the amount of light emitted in Baghdad at night found that electricity use in Sunni neighborhoods fell prior to the surge and never returned, indicating that ethnic cleansing by Shiite militias drove the Sunnis away before the surge began and was largely responsible for the subsequent decrease in violence. [Via Passport]
posted by homunculus (33 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought Baghdad's electricity is/was spotty at best, and frequently goes out altogether?
posted by ornate insect at 2:16 PM on September 23, 2008


Highly recommended reading: Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq by Patrick Cockburn
posted by acro at 2:18 PM on September 23, 2008


Less people to oppose us? Mission Accomplished!
posted by Balisong at 2:20 PM on September 23, 2008


I thought Baghdad's electricity is/was spotty at best, and frequently goes out altogether?

Yes, but if it's merely a technical glitch, why would you have these Sunni vs. Shiite differences?
posted by jonp72 at 2:21 PM on September 23, 2008


Why do you hate America?
posted by Mister_A at 2:22 PM on September 23, 2008


I blame Bush.
posted by Balisong at 2:24 PM on September 23, 2008


How did they manage to get a font to look that bad in a PDF?
posted by smackfu at 2:32 PM on September 23, 2008


I thought Baghdad's electricity is/was spotty at best, and frequently goes out altogether?

They account for that. From the second link:
Baghdad's decreases were centered in the southwestern Sunni strongholds of East and West Rashid, where the light signature dropped 57 percent and 80 percent, respectively, during the same period.

By contrast, the night-light signature in the notoriously impoverished, Shiite-dominated Sadr City remained constant, as it did in the American-dominated Green Zone. Light actually increased in Shiite-dominated New Baghdad, the researchers found.

...

"This was the part of the city that had the best sources of connection and the most affluent population, so they could actually generate power themselves, and they were in the habit of doing so well before the U.S. invasion," said Agnew, the president of the American Association of Geographers, the field's leading professional organization. "But we saw no evidence of a widespread continuation of this practice."
posted by homunculus at 2:33 PM on September 23, 2008


Can't you admit that McCain was right about the surge?

Standing alone against the whole country and yes, even his own party, the maverick, Senator McChange supported the surge.

And Obama opposed it!

The surge man.

The surge.
posted by three blind mice at 2:33 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Juan Cole: A Social History of the Surge
posted by homunculus at 2:37 PM on September 23, 2008


"This was the part of the city that had the best sources of connection and the most affluent population, so they could actually generate power themselves, and they were in the habit of doing so well before the U.S. invasion

That's not very convincing, is rather anecdotal, and could, if I'm reading it correctly, be interpreted to work against the study's claims. My only point here, and I don't claim to either know for sure or have studied it closely, is that there may would seem to be a lot of variables at work that might suggest alternate possibilities. To use the inconsistent patchwork of electrical output in Baghdad as reflective of what the paper claims it is reflective of, might be a bit of a stretch--but I could be wrong.
posted by ornate insect at 2:44 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


may would seem
posted by ornate insect at 2:44 PM on September 23, 2008


The Israeli Model Surges Toward Iraq.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 3:03 PM on September 23, 2008


Would this mean that they cleaned out the areas, and then didn't take over the territory?

Also I thought it was pretty much accepted by all but the most diehard surge fanatics that there were multiple reasons for the decrease in violence, all of them intertwined in a way that made it hard to really prove or disprove any one theory.
posted by billyfleetwood at 3:19 PM on September 23, 2008


We needed the surge because Iran trucked off the weapons of mass destruction which is why we need to go in there now. Even though we did go in with enough people at first. Unilaterally extending the tours of the troops is the best way to support the troops.
Once we build permanent bases in Iraq, then we can leave the country. But if the Iraqis hadn’t attacked us on 9/11 none of this would have started. In any case, the surge accomplished the goal of whatever it is we’re doing there.

Jeez, I didn’t hear all this complaining when Bush got a manned mission to Mars.

Meh. Maybe ‘tis ethnic cleansing, maybe ‘tis racking up the body bags and/or better targeted surveillance. Whatever the case, you can’t kill your way to victory.
...well, you can...if your goal is genocide.
Still, should be certain goals, conditions, y’know - something, for victory. I mean - yeah, ok, the means are working well (or not) - what’s the ends there? Holding ground? Swell, but that’s not just a military app.
What is it with this administrations fascination with tactics as fetish? We’re fighting ‘terrorism’ using ‘troop surge.’
Hey, I’m ‘dairy farming logistics’ using ‘wealth application.’
My kids like it with Cheerios in the morning.
Unfortunately they’ll never actually get the milk itself because even though the process successful it’s apparently ‘generational.’ And is buying milk *really* the goal here? We have to keep our milk options open over there otherwise they’ll close over here.
Actually bringing home the milk - whole other thing.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:35 PM on September 23, 2008 [5 favorites]


Secret surge weapon
posted by hortense at 3:51 PM on September 23, 2008




Also I thought it was pretty much accepted by all but the most diehard surge fanatics that there were multiple reasons for the decrease in violence, all of them intertwined in a way that made it hard to really prove or disprove any one theory.

I think that's true. This new evidence is another piece of the puzzle.

Another factor is the Sunni Awakening. Here's an article from today's NYTimes: Friction Infiltrates Sunni Patrols on Safer Iraqi Streets
posted by homunculus at 4:22 PM on September 23, 2008


This PDF is getting our troops killed. Support the troops!

PS: TROOPS!!!!
posted by DU at 4:50 PM on September 23, 2008


Bob Woodward cites four factors in his new book: "the covert operations; the influx of troops; the decision by militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to rein in his powerful Mahdi Army; and the so-called Anbar Awakening." I'm not sure about the covert ops, but Moqtada al-Sadr's truce and the Anbar Awakening started before the surge.

Can't you admit that McCain was right about the surge?

Nope. The surge has failed to accomplish most of the political goals that President Bush said it would. If you want to redefine "the surge worked" as fewer American casualties and reduced violence (which is relative: "low levels of violence" is "below the 200-attacks-per-week mark"), then great, let's go home.

And how are we doing on the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq?
Victory in Iraq is Defined in Stages:
  • Short term, Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists, meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions, and standing up security forces.
  • Medium term, Iraq is in the lead defeating terrorists and providing its own security, with a fully constitutional government in place, and on its way to achieving its economic potential.
  • Longer term, Iraq is peaceful, united, stable, and secure, well integrated into the international community, and a full partner in the global war on terrorism
posted by kirkaracha at 4:53 PM on September 23, 2008


“and a full partner in the global war on terrorism”

Yeah. That’s what weirds me out about the ‘goals.’
Stage one - fight terrorists. Stage two - fight terrorists. Final stage - fight terrorists.
There’s this assumption of an eternal cycle there that’s absolutely mind blowing. While they’re oft overstated or hyperbolic, I don’t think recognizing the Orwellian undertones are out of proportion there.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:15 PM on September 23, 2008


There’s this assumption of an eternal cycle there that’s absolutely mind blowing.

War is necessary. War is good.

Buy more stuff and stop hating America.
posted by rokusan at 5:44 PM on September 23, 2008


I've often said that the real innovation of BushCo has been applying the War On Drugs model to the military. Few things in American history have done quite so much as the WoD has to enrich the few at the expense of the many, while still getting widespread approval; obviously, endless Wars On Concepts are much better than regular wars, because you can never lose them. Of course, you can never win, either, but it was never about winning to begin with... the idea that we should have "goals" or "conditions for victory" makes no sense in a war measured by profits, both geo-political and personal.

The circular nature of that "victory" strategy is no accident...
posted by vorfeed at 6:31 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


The surge was sold the same way the invasion was, and exactly the same way they're selling the Wall Street buyout pretty much at this very moment: "we have failed in every respect, catastrophically and completely, and now the only way out to escape certain death now is to give us everything we want without conditions or oversight or the WORLD WILL COME TO AN END!!!"

This administration keeps pulling the same trick, which you'd never imagine a sane person falling for, and yet it keeps working. And each time the price is even higher.

The amazing thing is that a month ago I thought Naomi Klein was really pretty out there, or at least gone a bit beyond the realm ofanything like rigorous analysis. But this week proves she absolutely fucking nailed it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:44 PM on September 23, 2008 [5 favorites]


Not a fan of the surge or the Iraq war or anything Republican here, but that is one hell of a leap in logic to suggest that less light in satellite photos directly equates to ethnic cleansing.
posted by cellphone at 6:54 PM on September 23, 2008


So - wait - people can just download satellite light output maps for various dates? Where do I do this?
posted by odinsdream at 7:16 PM on September 23, 2008


Not a fan of the surge or the Iraq war or anything Republican here, but that is one hell of a leap in logic to suggest that less light in satellite photos directly equates to ethnic cleansing.

It's not exactly the same as looking across the street and seing the neighbor's porch light off and assuming "oh, well...looks like the Johnsons got ethnically cleansed." There was already visible and acknowledged sectarian conflict, the question is if it reached some sort of logical endpoint that led to a decrease in overall violence.
posted by billyfleetwood at 8:30 PM on September 23, 2008


"ethnic cleansing by Shiite militias drove the Sunnis away before the surge began and was largely responsible for the subsequent decrease in violence."

If the Sunnis were driven away before the surge began and that was responsible for the drop in violence, then shouldn't the violence have gone down before the surge began?
posted by Jahaza at 9:46 PM on September 23, 2008


From the August 23, 2007 New York Times, Militias Seizing Control of Iraqi Electricity Grid:
Armed groups increasingly control the antiquated switching stations that channel electricity around Iraq, the electricity minister said Wednesday. That is dividing the national grid into fiefs that, he said, often refuse to share electricity generated locally with Baghdad and other power-starved areas in the center of Iraq.

The development adds to existing electricity problems in Baghdad, which has been struggling to provide power for more than a few hours a day because insurgents regularly blow up the towers that carry power lines into the city. The government lost the ability to control the grid centrally after the American-led invasion in 2003, when looters destroyed electrical dispatch centers, the minister, Karim Wahid, said in a news briefing attended also by United States military officials.

The briefing had been intended, in part, to highlight successes in the American-financed reconstruction program here. But it took an unexpected turn when Mr. Wahid, a highly respected technocrat and longtime ministry official, began taking questions from Arab and Western journalists.

Because of the lack of functioning dispatch centers, Mr. Wahid said, ministry officials have been trying to control the flow of electricity from huge power plants in the south, north and west by calling local officials there and ordering them to physically flip switches. But the officials refuse to follow those orders when the armed groups threaten their lives, he said, and the often isolated stations are abandoned at night and easily manipulated by whatever group controls the area.
Who controls Baghdad Town?
posted by cenoxo at 10:02 PM on September 23, 2008


Get Your War On - The Surge
posted by kcds at 4:54 AM on September 24, 2008


This is what I've been telling people for awhile now, so it's nice to finally have some sort of empirical data to back it up.

The person who really nailed this was James D. Fearon, Dept. of Political Science, Stanford University, who specializes in studying the statistics of civil wars, and who has done extensive research on them. His testimony, given at a House of Representatives meeting in early Oct. '06, was/is particularly accurate. He also wrote a full paper on this for Foriegn Affairs which should've been required reading for everyone in Washington.

In his testimony, he stated that Iraq was in a civil war, and that civil wars usually last an average of 10 years, usually with military victories. They only end in successful power sharing agreements about 17% of the time -- in many of these cases, it really appears that one side has won militarily, while still offering concessions.

Indeed, he said that Iraq didn't lend itself to a successful powersharing agreement. The parties in Iraq are highly factionalized, and they have not fought to a stalemate -- something that the Coalition presence in Iraq prevents. And when you have multiple factions that are on a war footing, it is very hard for the sides to trust that the other side will observe the terms of a written agreement... each side knows that the other will be tempted to use force to change the deal. When powersharing does work, it has usually been after years of intense fighting which has clarified that neither side can win outright, and when the combattants are not highly factionalized -- if they are factionalized, then you cannot trust that the other side would be able to stick to a deal, even if you are capable of reaching one.

His final conclusion?:
"The historical record on how civil wars end suggests, unfortunately, that in terms of reaching a peaceful, democratic Iraq that can stand on its own, it probably doesn't matter much if the U.S. stays in Iraq one more year, five more years, or even ten more years.

Foriegn troops can enforce powersharing and limit violence while they're present, but once they go, lack of trust, factionalization, and the fact that the players are organized for violent conflict means that the deals we backed would be likely to fall apart, as groups scramble for power and security."


Fearon's conclusion was that the U.S. should do a phased withdrawl to a nearby base, such as in Kurdistan, in the hope of saving what could be saved and giving the U.S. a base to surpress al Qaeda, while buying the Iraqis some time to complete the "ethnic sorting" process that is currently happening, so that the Sunni, Shi'a, and Kurds wouldn't be so prone to kill each other when we finally leave.

What happened instead is that the U.S. kept its troops around, while the civil war raged all around them, somewhat mitigating -- yet stretching out -- the conflict / "ethic sorting". Indeed, the surge only started in the very tailend of the ethnic sorting process, at a time when it should've been clear that the civil war was ebbing due to ethnic sorting.
posted by markkraft at 5:40 AM on September 24, 2008 [6 favorites]


To use the inconsistent patchwork of electrical output in Baghdad as reflective of what the paper claims it is reflective of, might be a bit of a stretch--but I could be wrong.

You neglect to mention that part of the paper's argument is that proponents of the "surge" have credited the "surge" with improving material conditions in Iraq. (John McCain's photo op in a Baghdad marketplace illustrates this.) As this paper shows, the "surge" can't even be credited with increasing access to basic electricity by Baghdad residents. I can understand if you're suspicious of the paper's circumstantial evidence of ethnic cleansing in Sunni and Shia neighborhoods, but that evidence is meant to supplemental to the direct testimonial evidence we already have about ethnic cleansing in Iraq.
posted by jonp72 at 9:09 AM on September 24, 2008


I liked the Fearon piece markkraft, thanks. (Rattles my head somewhat, I may have seen it before) but he makes a good point about leveraging diplomatic and military aid with an ultimate eye toward stability.
I’d posit that this would be pretty much our only ‘way out’ in that if I’m whatever Iraqi government ultimately comes out of this mess I’m going to be mighty pissed at the U.S. otherwise. Even if we stay we ‘leave’ in the sense that we leave them with a mess of guerillas in their backyard to clean up. And that’s damned near impossible without popular support.

It’s really a lady (with AIDS) or the tiger choice. Die slow or die fast.
If we leave, just split the country, we leave them to the instability and civil war we initiated (oh, it was there before us, but we’re the ones kicked over Hussein’s tea wagon) and we have that blood on our hands. (This in addition to the blood on our hands from the insertion). But no more of our guys killed - on the plus side.

If we stay we have to sit on the sidelines - again - and watch one group tear up another group. And that blood isn’t directly on our hands, but it’s as good as.
But on the up side - no one left to resent us.
So very much ‘take it’ or leave it.
Bitter ashes in my mouth, man. Hobson had it easy.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:18 PM on September 24, 2008


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