Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Great Walls of Baghdad

Interfering with insurgent and terrorist freedom of movement is basic to counter-insurgency. The Boer War saw the British crisscross the countryside with barbed wire fences and block houses to hold troops in order to impede horse travel. If Boers attacked somewhere, they'd draw a reaction but be slowed down and channeled as they sought to escape.

This is what we did in Baghdad:

"The point of the walls was to structure the environment, to hold the city and keep it safe," he tells DANGER ROOM. "It's like [keeping] guard inside a concrete building, instead of in the middle of a field... You don't need vast maneuver forces to do it... It's the principle of economy of force."

Now that the eleven sets of walls across Baghdad have been built -- "controlling access, preventing attacks on the community, and preventing attacks from being launched on someone else," Kilcullen says -- "we're now in a position to move against the [insurgent] havens."

"Murders and sectarian killings have dropped 63%" in Baghdad's Adhamiya neighborhood, since the wall has been put in place, he claims. Residents are "thrilled."

Initially, the barrier there -- and in other locations around Iraq's capitol -- drew protests and international outcry. Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki even called for a halt in construction, saying, "I oppose the building of the wall and its construction will stop. There are other methods to protect neighborhoods." But Kilcullen asserts that most of the local protests were "information operations" conducted by insurgent groups, meant to undermine U.S. plans to improve Baghdad's security.

I discussed the barriers earlier, noting that Sunni complaints were probably from Baathists (or pro-jihadis, too, for that matter), and later noting information that indicated the protests really were information operations.

In the end the enemy couldn't stop the walls. And now they will play a role in strangling the insurgency. It is amazingly dense that it took this long in the war to carry out such a basic procedure.

Not that I think I commented on this approach before, so I'm not claiming any special genius here. But some things I just kind of assume we would be doing. And if I read about berms or barriers in one part of Iraq, I kind of assumed this was just one story of a general policy. I guess not.

Mistakes in war are the norm, however, so complaints of errors are no reason to write off the whole war as so many do. We have built the barriers now. And they will have an effect.

We are winning this war. We were winning the war before the surge in my opinion (though from March to December 2006 the pace was too slow to beat our waning will to fight it to a successful conclusion, I think), and are winning it now (at a faster pace which hopefully oupaces our accelerating loss of will). Good grief, it would be downright embarassing to lose now!