So I’ve been following the “the Surge was a fraud” lines of argument on sites like Democracyarsenal, and meaning to reply when I got a moment when this NY Times article popped up on Memeorandum: “Back in Iraq, Jarred by the Calm“. Amusingly, so far this morning, the only sites to have linked to it are warblogs – Hot Air, Neptunus Lex, The Astute Bloggers. In a world where I had more time, I’d do some digging into the insularity of the blogs right now, as left and right blogs increasingly ignore stories that don’t support their narrative.
Here’s the lede from the NY Times article:
At first, I didn’t recognize the place.
On Karada Mariam, a street that runs over the Tigris River toward the Green Zone, the Serwan and the Zamboor, two kebab places blown up by suicide bombers in 2006, were crammed with customers. Farther up the street was Pizza Napoli, the Italian place shut down in 2006; it, too, was open for business. And I’d forgotten altogether about Abu Nashwan’s Wine Shop, boarded up when the black-suited militiamen of the Mahdi Army had threatened to kill its owners. There it was, flung open to the world.
Two years ago, when I last stayed in Baghdad, Karada Mariam was like the whole of the city: shuttered, shattered, broken and dead.
Abu Nawas Park – I didn’t recognize that, either. By the time I had left the country in August 2006, the two-mile stretch of riverside park was a grim, spooky, deserted place, a symbol for the dying city that Baghdad had become.
These days, the same park is filled with people: families with children, women in jeans, women walking alone. Even the nighttime, when Iraqis used to cower inside their homes, no longer scares them. I can hear their laughter wafting from the park. At sundown the other day, I had to weave my way through perhaps 2,000 people. It was an astonishing, beautiful scene – impossible, incomprehensible, only months ago.
Go read the whole thing.
Now, it’s been interesting following the path of the story – based on aerial imagery – that suggested that ethnic cleansing was what really drive down the violence in Iraq – before the Surge started.
It was for some reason a debatable point whether the sectarian cleansing of mixed neighborhoods contributed to the decline in violence. Reuters now confirms – and has visual evidence – to prove that the decline in violence in Iraq, specifically in Baghdad, was caused in no small measure by the massive sectarian cleansing that preceded the surge. The sectarian violence essentially cleansed neighborhoods of their minority populations, reducing opportunities for violence. Maggie Fox from Reuters explains:
Satellite images taken at night show heavily Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Baghdad began emptying before a U.S. troop surge in 2007, graphic evidence of ethnic cleansing that preceded a drop in violence, according to a report published on Friday. The images support the view of international refugee organizations and Iraq experts that a major population shift was a key factor in the decline in sectarian violence, particularly in the Iraqi capital, the epicenter of the bloodletting in which hundreds of thousands were killed…”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 intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning,” said Agnew, who studies ethnic conflict.
I haven’t had time to read the whole study, but let me suggest two things to think about before I editorialize:
First, that it seems odd to me that the decline in attacks on Coalition troops – along with the intercommunal violence – would be somehow contingent on ‘clearing’ certain neighborhoods. And such a decline clearly took place in parallel; so unless the analysts want to propose that there were two completely unrelated sets of violent activity – one aimed at sectarian violence and one aimed at Coalition troops – it seems like there was an overall pattern of change which reduced both the sectarian and anti-Coalition violence over the course of the year.
Second, I’ll freely acknowledge that population movement had some impact on the levels of violence. But it seems unlikely – given the level of violence – that simply moving from partially Sunni neighborhoods to consolidated Sunni neighborhoods would have had a lot of impact – it’s not like the Sunni were chased out of Iraq.
A deeper pattern of social change has resulted in the Iraq described by Filkins in the Times today, and he talks about two indicators which he saw:
Everything here seems to be standing on its head. Propaganda posters, which used to celebrate the deaths of American soldiers, now call on Iraqis to turn over the triggermen of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the Mahdi Army. “THERE IS NOWHERE FOR YOU TO HIDE,” a billboard warns in Arabic, displaying a set of peering, knowing eyes. I saw one such poster in Adamiyah, a Sunni neighborhood that two years ago was under the complete control of Al Qaeda. Sunni insurgents – guys who were willing to take on the Qaeda gunmen – are now on the American payroll, keeping the peace at ragtag little checkpoints for $300 a month.
In the crowd, I saw a face I recognized. It was Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraqâ€™s national security advisor. It had been a long time since I’d seen him. Mr. Rubaie is a warm, garrulous man, a neurologist who spent years in London before returning to Iraq. But he is also a Shiite, and a member of Iraqâ€™s Shiite-led government, which, in 2005 and 2006, was accused of carrying out widespread atrocities against Iraqâ€™s Sunnis. Anbar Province is almost entirely Sunni.
As Mr. Rubaie made his way through the crowd, I noticed he was holding hands with another Iraqi man, a traditional Arab gesture of friendship and trust. It was Brig. Gen. Murdi Moshhen al-Dulaimi, the Iraqi Army officer taking control of the province – a Sunni. The sun was blinding, but Mr. Rubaie was wearing sunglasses, and finally he spotted me.
“What on earth are you doing here?” he asked over the crowd.
I might have asked him the same thing.
Read the whole thing, as they say.
And then go back and read the mendacious post at Democracyarsenal, where they say:
So when John McCain declares “victory” in Iraq and states that the increase of just 30,000 troops was the fundamental reason for the decline in violence, he once again proves that he has no idea what he is talking about.
So who doesn’t know what they are talking about in this case? My money is on Max Bergmann, who – like many of the antiwar analysts who are frustrated by the outcome that appears to be solidifying in Iraq – will stretch any idea possible to suggest that our actions had nothing to do with them.
And, more important, who would pull the plug on an emerging but fragile Iraq just as things are starting to heal.
Because that’s the issue above all. If the Surge was ineffective, our presence is unsupportable, and we just need to get out. We need to stop supporting the Iraqi government, stop paying the Sunni insurgents, just stop! stop! stop! whatever we are doing. So that a political movement here in the US can feel vindicated.
No matter what hell may get unleashed on a newly hopeful Iraq.