Decreased Violence in Iraq and the Surge

I don’t think that anyone disputes the fact that violence in Iraq has diminished since the beginning of the surge. What is disputed by many is the belief that the surge was a wise policy. Many opponents of the surge, including myself, had predicted that the violence would drop during the surge but were skeptical as to whether this would contribute to a lasting political solution. We also questioned whether the surge would be worth the cost, which included further depletion of the resources of our armed forces, allowing conditions in Afghanistan to deteriorate further.

Some of the decrease in violence has been a consequence of political changes which actually began before the surge started. There has been more evidence this month showing that those of us who opposed the surge were right. Bob Woodward’s new book showed several reasons for a drop in violence independent of the surge. One particularly tragic explanation came to light in a report from Reuters released today:

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.

Minority Sunni Arabs were driven out of many neighborhoods by Shi’ite militants enraged by the bombing of the Samarra mosque in February 2006. The bombing, blamed on the Sunni militant group al Qaeda, sparked a wave of sectarian violence.

“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.

Update: Looking further at this study I am not certain how much it proves this point, but there is independent evidence that ethnic cleansing was a major factor in the decrease in violence. CNN correspondent Michael Ware has been reporting on this for well over a year.


  1. 1
    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.

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

  2. 2
    Christopher says:


    I gave you an award.

  3. 3
    Eric D. Rittberg says:

    Hmmn, so you don’t give the United States Military any credit, huh?  I wonder, are you yourself a Veteran?  If so, how is it that you could so easily dismiss your comrades in arms?  They’re out there in 120 degree weather every day, working to bring democracy and freedom to a very formerly – under Saddam – unfree land.  The least you could do, sitting in your comfortable living room with air conditioning and a soda pop by your side, is give them a little credit. 

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:


    Do you even bother to ever read the facts, or the arguments presented, before coming up with your nonsense?

    If you bothered to consider what is actually being written, you would see that my initial assumption was to give credit to the United States Military. The assumption was that having them there would result in less violence while they were there. The question was whether this was a wise use of the military if this would only lead to a decrease in violence while they were actually there or if other factors beyond the surge were more important to ultimately bring peace to the area.

    I also argue that the military could have been better used in Afghanistan–which implicitly gives them credit.

    While I did not bring up this point in this post, another reason to oppose the surge was that it would keep more members of the military away from home (after serving far more time overseas than they anticipated) and lead to more deaths for a flawed strategy. This shows the military far more respect than people like you who would use them as cannon fodder.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:


    You might have a point. He does write later in the article of comparing the lights under comparable situations and mentions same times but did not really explain how he might have corrected for the time differences you mention.

    This is a case where I wish everything was written in blogs so that we could directly ask the author to clarify the point. Hopefully there will be more discussion of this.

  6. 6
    Angellight says:

    Bob Woodward said that Surge was not the only factor!

    McCain Says One Thing and THEN Votes The Opposite!  When you hear McCain talk, think — Wizard of Oz.

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:


    Thank you for the award.

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    Further evidence that ethnic cleansing was a factor in the reduction of violence is presented here.

  9. 9
    battlebob says:

    Lind at Defense and the National Interest has this to say about the drop in violence:

    Al Qaeda’s alienation of much of its Sunni base, to the point where many Sunni insurgents changed sides. As I have pointed out before, al Qaeda in Iraq made a common error of revolutionary movements: it attempted to impose its program before it had consolidated power. As best I can see from Olympus, it seems to be persisting in that error, perhaps because its loose discipline does not allow it to do otherwise. That is good news for us. But we dare not forget that in 4GW, all alliances are temporary. The Sunni Awakening militias like our money but they don’t much like us.
    Muqtada al-Sadr’s decision to order his Mahdi Army to observe a truce, now extended to August of this year. The truce remains in his interest, because he needs to husband his strength for a winner-take-all final gambit.
    Moving many U.S. troops off their FOBs and into neighborhoods where they can try to protect the population.
    Last and least, the “surge.” This usefully added some additional troops for #3, but without the former move it would have simply created more Fobbits. A question I have not seen addressed is what percentage of the troops for #3 were already in the country. My bet is a large majority.

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