THE BLOG
09/19/2008 07:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Obvious Confirmed: Sectarian Cleansing Major Reason for Drop in Violence in Iraq

Wwwreuterscom_2
It was for some reason a debatable point whether the sectarian cleansing of mixed neighborhoods contributed to the decline in violence. Reuters now confirms - and has visual evidence - to prove that the decline in violence in Iraq, specifically in Baghdad, was caused in no small measure by the massive sectarian cleansing that preceded the surge. The sectarian violence essentially cleansed neighborhoods of their minority populations, reducing opportunities for violence. Maggie Fox from Reuters explains:

Satellite images taken at night show heavily Sunni Arab neighborhoods
of Baghdad began emptying before a U.S. troop surge in 2007, graphic
evidence of ethnic cleansing that preceded a drop in violence,
according to a report published on Friday. The images support the view
of international refugee organizations and Iraq experts that a major
population shift was a key factor in the decline in sectarian violence,
particularly in the Iraqi capital, the epicenter of the bloodletting in
which hundreds of thousands were killed
..."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," geography
professor John Agnew of the University of California Los Angeles, who
led the study, said in a statement. "Essentially, our interpretation is
that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence
that reached a climax as the surge was beginning,"
said Agnew, who
studies ethnic conflict.

This really is not surprising (Petraeus even admitted this to be the case in his testimony in April).The violence in Iraq in 2005-06 was massive and as a result unsustainable. The reason is simple, if you are living in a neighborhood in which you are a minority and the majority in that neighborhood is actively killing minority residents - what do you do? You leave. You go to neighborhoods in which you are secure and which you are in the majority, where you have more protection. As a result of this flight, the intensity of violence often dissipates because there are less targets of opportunity. This is a common trend in ethnic conflicts and as I wrote about in December, was apparent in Northern Ireland in the early 70s. Violence peaked, neighborhoods homogenize, walls were built to separate, and violence went down. But the important point is that less violence did not mean peace. Instead, Northern Ireland remained fractured and its politics remained broken until very recently. Less violence is definitely a good thing, but the challenge of reconciling ethnically divided and fractured societies is extremely difficult. 

So when John McCain declares "victory" in Iraq and states that the increase of just 30,000 troops was the fundamental reason for the decline in violence, he once again proves that he has no idea what he is talking about.