Friday, April 20, 2007

# Posted 7:44 AM by Taylor Owen  

GREAT WALL OF CHINA, OR 'GATED COMMUNITY' DREAM? I'd be curious what others think about this. Seems to me like a temporary measure. But maybe that is what is needed, a 'temporary' wall until the tempers subside. The problem with walls though is that once they are up, they usually end up sticking around for a while...

Here are some detail from the LA Times piece.
A U.S. military brigade is constructing a 3-mile-long concrete wall to cut off one of the capital's most restive Sunni Arab districts from the Shiite Muslim neighborhoods that surround it, raising concern about the further Balkanization of Iraq's most populous and violent city...

The ambitious project is a sign of how far the U.S. military will go to end the bloodshed in Iraq. But U.S. officials denied that it was a central tactic of the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown launched Feb. 13.
It's good to know that this is not considered part of the counterinsurgency 'surge'. I am no expert, but I would put some money on 'dividing communities with walls' not being in Patraeus', Counterinsurgency Doctrine. But if this isn't part of the surge, then what is it?

On the extent of it:
"We defer to commanders on the ground, but dividing up the entire city with barriers is not part of the plan," U.S. military spokesman Army Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said Thursday.
Some reaction:
"Are they trying to divide us into different sectarian cantons?" said a Sunni drugstore owner in Adhamiya, who would identify himself only as Abu Ahmed, 44. "This will deepen the sectarian strife and only serve to abort efforts aimed at reconciliation."
"Are we in the West Bank?" asked Abu Qusay, 48, a pharmacist who said that he wouldn't be able to get to his favorite kebab restaurant in Adhamiya....

Some predicted the new wall would become a target of militants on both sides. Last week, construction crews came under small-arms fire, military officials said.

"I feel this is the beginning of a pattern of what the whole of Iraq is going to look like, divided by sectarian and racial criteria," Abu Marwan, 50, a Shiite pharmacist, said.
While It may indeed have a positive impact, who the hell knows?, my sense is that this might be a tad too much spin:
The wall is "on a fault line of Sunni and Shia, and the idea is to curb some of the self-sustaining violence by controlling who has access to the neighborhoods," Army Capt. Marc Sanborn, brigade engineer for the project, said in the release. He said the concept was closer to an exclusive gated community in the United States than to China's Great Wall.
A related anecdote. A couple of months ago in Oxford I saw a talk by a US counterinsurgency expert who had spent the better part of the past few years working with the military in Anbar. A point that stuck with me was that even if Patraeus wanted to fully implement his idea of a counterinsurgency, it is incredibly difficult to get commanders on the ground to follow suit. Particularly when many aspects of the strategy would put their soldiers at greater risk. You therefore often get a disconnect between the best strategic policy to defeat an insurgency, and what commanders feel is required to minimize casualties. This person felt that Patraeus' biggest challenge was going to be to overcome this. I wonder where the wall fits in with this challenge?

UPDATE: While we are on counterinsurgency, it seems to me that this, via Drum, is a relatively big deal? Again, without judgment, I would be curious where this fits in with Patraeus' doctrine.

Military planners have abandoned the idea that standing up Iraqi troops will enable American soldiers to start coming home soon and now believe that U.S. troops will have to defeat the insurgents and secure control of troubled provinces.

Training Iraqi troops, which had been the cornerstone of the Bush administration's Iraq policy since 2005, has dropped in priority, officials in Baghdad and Washington said.

(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

thanks, I had never heard that term. your description of it is interesting. So is this what is being implemented? I must say, I still fail to see the long term feasibility of such a strategy, particularly, if it involves evacuating communities. Didn't both Fallugah battles show that this isn't sustainable?
We don't have the ability to eject populations as in Fallujah across Baghdad. Looks like they're just going to be doing sweeps inside the walls, build up intel networks, until Adhimiyah is cleansed of significant insurgent presence. At least that's the idea. The wall is just a way to ensure they can't easily escape and filter back in. The French did this in Algiers with mixed results.
It looks to me as if the comparison of this to French counter-insurgency is pretty good in terms of tactics, less good in terms of strategy, because

(a) we don't want Iraq as a colony, and
(b) times and technologies have changed.

The French (if I understand correctly, and likely I don't) felt they needed to rule the pieces into which they were breaking Algiers; we don't actually need to rule the gated communities. If they can protect themselves from one another, then divide-and-don't-conquer may work. Imagine guards with local loyalties, community paychecks, at the gates checking those who pass in and out. We don't need to tell them what to do; we just need to make defense a somewhat more feasible strategy for them. Can we do that? Well, walls may help. Cameras at the gates may help, especially if connected to image-processing tech, and a non-local guard who can say what gates this stranger has come through, at least sometimes. ID technology may help.) It's not an overall solution, it doesn't specify how the resulting pieces cooperate with one another, but it seems likely to reduce conflict in some areas, by changing the cost factors for offense and defense. Good fences may not make good neighbors, but they may help make bad neighbors somewhat less bad. As the conflicts eventually get resolved or outgrown, the gates get left open...we hope. Maybe.
This is death by increments: at some point we will have to step back and say "how perfect must Iraq be before we can say we won?" Killing AQ and the baathists needs to be priority one, stopping sectarian violence is lower. The reason being that AQ wants civil war, as do some baathists. Taking care of them solves the civil war potential. Once that's done, we win. To compare, in the two weeks preceding this last one, there were more deaths to sectarian violence in Pakistan than in Bagdad. (Yep, sunni on shia)So how perfect must we make it? We will never stop all sectartian violence.
Thanos, I doubt you have any idea how much sectarian violence there was in Baghdad this week. We won't know until next week at the least, when the bodies start showing up.
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