What did the Iraq 'surge' achieve?

Some important new research raises doubts about the effects of the famous "surge" in Iraq and whether it could become a model for Afghanistan

In an article for ISN Security Watch, Claudio Guler argues that the US surge – and the troop increase in particular – was not responsible for ending the flare-up of violence in Iraq in 2006-2007. Instead, he suggests, the surge dovetailed with "converging dynamics on the ground", facilitating a cessation of hostilities rather than directly bringing it about.

"Iraq’s civil war was foremost about the country’s violent post-invasion shift from a Sunni minority-run state under Saddam Hussein to a Shia majority-run country," Guler writes.

A central element in this shift was the sectarian "cleansing" of Baghdad, and a series of maps produced by Michael Izady of Columbia University shows the city's changing sectarian make-up through 20032006early 2007late 2007 and 2008-2009.

Pre-invasion Baghdad was the most ethnically diverse part of Iraq, and what the maps demonstrate "is that from early 2006 to mid-2007 the Mahdi army and affiliated Shia militia groups cleansed Baghdad of Sunnis, forcing diehards into Sunni stronghold neighbourhoods in the western part of the city," Gular says. 

Most of the bloodshed associated with this had already occurred before the extra US troops arrived. 

Guler suggests that changes in US military tactics and the embracing of the Sunni "awakening movements" helped to "temper the bloodletting" but the 28,000 extra troops probably "played a marginal role in stamping out smouldering embers".

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 10 November 2009.