Wednesday, April 25, 2007

About Those Walls in Iraq

Fire of Liberty

This past week the talking heads and a large amount of Democrats, who make the rounds on the Sunday and morning news shows, nearly busted a gut in criticizing the US and Iraqi forces for putting up various security fences between or throughout neighborhoods in Baghdad. Now while these individuals are always so quick to jump on the whole issue to just through more gasoline on the "Bush bonfire," it would be nice if these politicians would back off such rhetoric and realize that the folks who are on the ground in Iraq and tasked with the running the counter-insurgency fight might know a little more about what they're doing than the pols in D.C. Thankfully, Max Boot has laid a pretty good argument over at Commentary's blog contentions on why the construction of such walls is an essential tool in fighting an effective counter-insurgency. I'd say that Boot sums the whole argument with the following:
The point of these barriers isn’t to create a dividing line between Sunnis and Shiites, although admittedly that would be their effect in some places. The real point is to allow Iraqi and American security forces to keep a neighborhood free of terrorists once it has been cleared. Concrete barriers limit movement, channeling cars and pedestrians through a handful of checkpoints (known formally as ECP’s, or entry control points). Security personnel manning those checkpoints can turn away anyone who doesn’t have any business being in the neighborhood.

And how will they know who belongs and who doesn’t? In order to make this policy effective, officials or soldiers need to canvas the neighborhood, gathering census-style data about every household. It would help tremendously if Iraq launched a formal census and issued biometric identity cards to everyone. Such a step is under discussion by the Maliki government, but don’t hold your breath—it won’t happen anytime soon. Even short of such a solution, U.S. and Iraqi security forces are already improvising population surveys in their areas using handheld computers.

The whole process ought to be familiar to students of counterinsurgency. It is, in essence, an update of the old plan known as “concentration” zones or camps. The latter name causes understandable confusion, since we’re not talking about extermination camps of the kind that Hitler built, but rather of settlements where locals can be moved to live under guard, thereby preventing insurgent infiltration. The British used this strategy in the Boer war, the Americans during the Philippine war, and many other powers took similar steps in many other conflicts. In Vietnam they were known as “strategic hamlets.”

This type of massive population movement is not practical today given Iraq’s dense urban environment and nationalist sensitivities, but concrete barriers and tamper-proof identity cards can achieve some of the same result. There’s nothing nefarious about the process. It’s Counterinsurgency 101. The only wonder is that it’s taken so long for this obvious strategy to be implemented.

I'd be nice if the various politicians would find some time to read what Boot and other military/counter-insurgency experts and commanders like Lt. General Odierno and General Petraeus have to say about what is happening before they jump to any conclusions on the situation in Iraq.

*From the looks of this clip below, it looks like Senator Reid is going to act like a child and refuse to listen or believe Gen Petraeus as he updates Congress on the counter-insurgency fight in Iraq.

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