Making maps to counter prevailing assumptions and beliefs is a well established tradition. Counter mapping, radical mapping, protest mapping … the map proposes an alternative. Bolstered by its authoritative aura, the map can be quite convincing.
Geographers John Agnew, Thomas Gillespie, and Jorge Gonzalez, with Political Scientist Brian Min (all of UCLA) propose an alternative to the mantra – repeated by just about all on the political Right and Left – that the Iraq “Surge” has succeeded.
Agnew and his colleagues argue that the celebrated decline in violence in Baghdad is actually the result of inter-ethnic cleansing which began prior to the “Surge.” And this counter-proposal about the “Surge” is bolstered by a garrison of maps.
Counter-mapping the “Surge” depends on a relatively mundane set of meteorological satellite data, ironically generated by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program – Operation Linescan System (KMSP-OLS). Nighttime light is one kind of data collected by this program.
Nighttime light certainly suggests population patterns – we have all seen the global maps of nighttime light – and also access to electricity.
Agnew and his colleagues asked a relatively simple question that can be answered with a series of maps based on the KMSP-OLS data: how has emitted nighttime light in Baghdad changed as U.S. Military strategy in Iraq changed?
The study area consists of the ten security districts in Baghdad, here indicated on a Landsat ETM satellite image.
Nighttime light imagery was selected and analyzed for dates after the U.S. invasion of Iraq (November 16, 2003, 9pm), before the “Surge” (March 20, 2006, 9pm), and after the “Surge” (March 21 and December 16, 2007, both 9pm).
The results seem to contradict proclamations of the success of the “Surge.” In general, Baghdad’s nighttime light increased between the initial U.S. invasion and mid 2006, then begins a rapid decline prior to the implementation of the “Surge” strategy.
Even more interesting, the mid-2006 decrease in nighttime light is not evenly distributed in Baghdad. The areas of declining nighttime light correspond with areas of ethnic violence and cleansing as documented in the Jones Report and its maps.
The greatest decline is in East and West Rashid – historically mixed Sunni and Shia – but also Adhamiya (Sunni), Kadamiya (Shia), Rusafa, and Karada (mixed and Sunni). No change was observed in Sadr City (Shia), New Baghdad (Shia), Karkh (Green Zone), and Al Mansour (historically mixed but heavily Sunni by late 2007). This is certainly easier to see on a map:
Agnew and his colleagues conclude:
Our findings suggest that … the surge has had no observable effect, except insofar as it has helped to provide a seal of approval for a process of ethno-sectarian neighborhood homogenization that is now largely achieved but with a tremendous decline in the extent of residential intermixing between groups and a probable significant loss of population in some areas.
Furthermore, the nighttime light signature of Baghdad data when matched with ground data provided by the report to the US Congress by Marine Corps General Jones and various other sources, makes it clear that the diminished level of violence in Iraq since the onset of the surge owes much to a vicious process of inter-ethnic cleansing.
Disagree? Raise your own army of data and maps to counter this counter-“Surge” proposition.
The text of Agnew, Gillespie, Gonzalez, and Min’s article “Baghdad Nights: Evaluating the U.S. Military ‘Surge’ Using Nighttime Light Signatures” is, for review and educational purposes, here.