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Baghdad Nights: Light Data and Ethnic Cleansing
Evaluating the US military ‘surge’ using nighttime light signatures
09/22/2008 3:16 PM ET
A new voice is added to the debate over the effectiveness of the “surge” of U.S. soldiers in combating the sectarian violence in Iraq. Violence has decreased, but the question is why”? Factors that are often cited are the Awakening councils and improved counterinsurgency technology/tactics, but there is an argument that ethnic cleansing segregated Baghdad’s neighborhoods to the point that violence was bound to decrease, and that the influx of American troops walling-off neighborhoods strengthened this segregation.

There are many ways of gathering data and of coming to conclusions. The methodology of “Baghdad Nights”, a new study published in the journal “Environment and Planning A” is a little hard to wrap one’s head around.

Basically, it is this: Satellite images of Baghdad were analyzed for nighttime light signatures, which means that they looked at where people had lights on at night. From mass and sudden absence of such light in, for example, a Shiite section of a largely Sunni neighborhood, ethnic cleansing is claimed to be empirically demonstrated by the study’s leader, John Agnew of the University of California Los Angeles. Such imaging studies have also been used in the past to demonstrate ethnic cleansing in Uganda and forced relocation of civilians in Myanmar.

A portion of the study’s conclusion is as follows.
Our findings suggest that in these terms the surge has had no observable effect, except insofar as it has helped to provide a seal of approval for a process of ethno-sectarian neighborhood homogenization that is now largely achieved but with a tremendous decline in the extent of residential intermixing between groups and a probable significant loss of population in some areas. That is the message we take from the nighttime light data we have presented. Furthermore, the nighttime light signature of Baghdad data when matched with ground data provided by the report to the US Congress by Marine Corps General Jones and various other sources, makes it clear that the diminished level of violence in Iraq since the onset of the surge owes much to a vicious process of interethnic cleansing. This might resume if US forces withdraw. But as the case we have made strongly implies, the massive residential segregation and population loss happened anyway even when US forces were present in increased numbers. Perhaps they are not as central to events in Baghdad and Iraq as US government and popular opinion seems to believe. They certainly have not been over the past two years.
Download the entire 11-page PDF document here: Baghdad_Nights.pdf, or scroll the full report below:


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