Utne Blogs > Science and Technology

What Baghdad Nights Say About the “Surge”

by Cally Carswell 

Tags: Science, Baghdad, Iraq, U.S. troop surge, Iraqi violence, UCLA, Freakonomics,

Iraqi Mosque at Night

A group of UCLA geographers reached a surprising conclusion after analyzing the glow of Iraqi cities and neighborhoods at night: Ethnic cleansing may be the primary reason for the decreased violence in Iraq, not the much-touted “troop surge.”

“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 study co-author Thomas Gillespie, in a UCLA press release. “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.” The researchers found that the amount of night light in mostly Sunni neighborhoods dropped before the surge and hasn’t bounced back.

The violence decreased in Baghdad, “because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning,” the study’s lead author John Agnew said in the press release.  “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.”

(Thanks, Freakonomics.)