The insecurity of Baghdad's Dora neighborhood was demonstrated yet again in early October by three blasts that killed 17. What makes this interesting -- different and apart from the ongoing violence in the rest of the country -- is that this mixed neighborhood was "cleansed" by the US military in August.
The August operation was meant to make Dora an example, carefully chosen due to the presence of critical infrastructure, of how the US was going to apply classic counter-insurgency strategy (aka oil spots) first to Baghdad and outwards from there. The oil spot strategy -- the detailed playbook for this new attempt at it was written by DoD thinker Andrew Krepinevich, and was published in Foreign Affairs (September/October 2005) if you are interested -- is the latest and potentially the last (given the upsurge in domestic discontent with the war) US strategy for fixing Iraq.A simple rendition of the oil spot process is:
- isolate (cordon off) an area,
- cleanse it of insurgents, and
- provide it with political goods (the process is then repeated in a new area while maintaining a cordon around the first and so on until the country was pacified).
ConnectivityPut into perspective, the bombing in Dora is likely another indicator that even this classic strategy isn't working to dampen the insurgency (the recent upsurge in all of the negative indictors, from US deaths to number of attacks per day, provides it with a supportive backdrop). However, the problem with it isn't that the US military is incompetent (although it's pretty telling that the best strategic thinking in this war isn't coming from the general staff), it is that modern connectivity invalidates it. Iraqis, and Baghdadis in particular, are much more connected and mobile than the rural farmers of global backwaters in the last century that this strategy was built to pacify. They travel and communicate at levels and ranges that nullify attempts to isolate them for pacification. Here are some examples of this connectivity:
- Telephone subscribers. Prewar: 833,000 August 2006: 8,100,000 (nearly an order of magnitude increase)
- Car owners. Prewar: 1,500,000 October 2005: 3,100,000 (usage/traffic is 5x more than prewar)
- Internet subscribers. Prewar: 4,500 August: 197,310 (44x prewar)
What it meansThe paradox is that in order to pacify Iraqis under the current US strategy, they need to be isolated from the surrounding community. However, they cannot be isolated, because the very political goods that the government needs to deliver to gain their loyalty are inextricably tied to this connectivity. In short, while this connectivity brings progress, it will also deliver mayhem. There's no easy way around it.