By tracking the amount of light emitted by Baghdad neighborhoods at night, a team of UCLA geographers has uncovered fresh evidence that 2007's U.S. troop surge in Iraq may not have been as effective at improving security as some U.S. officials have maintained. Night light in neighborhoods populated primarily by embattled Sunni residents declined dramatically just before the February 2007 surge and never returned, suggesting that ethnic cleansing by rival Shiites may have been largely responsible for the decrease in violence for which the U.S. military has claimed credit, the team reports in a new study based on publicly available satellite imagery. "Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning," said lead author John Agnew, a UCLA professor of geography and authority on ethnic conflict. "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." The team reports its findings in the October 2008 issue of Environment and Planning A, a leading peer-reviewed academic journal that specializes in urban and environmental planning issues. The night-light signature in four other large Iraqi cities — Kirkuk, Mosul, Tikrit and Karbala — held steady or increased between the spring of 2006 and the winter of 2007, the UCLA team found. None of these cities were targets of the surge. Baghdad's decreases were centered in the southwestern Sunni strongholds of East and West Rashid, where the light signature dropped 57% and 80%, 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. Until just before the surge, the night-light signature of Baghdad had been steadily increasing overall, they report in "Baghdad Nights: Evaluating the U.S. Military 'Surge' Using Night Light Signatures." "If the surge had truly 'worked,' we would expect to see a steady increase in night-light output over time, as electrical infrastructure continued to be repaired and restored, with little discrimination across neighborhoods," said co-author Thomas Gillespie, an associate professor of geography at UCLA. "Instead, we found that the night-light signature diminished in only in certain neighborhoods, and the pattern appears to be associated with ethno-sectarian violence and neighborhood ethnic cleansing."
Hat tip, Randall Parker!