Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Baghdad: Iraq's Latest Gated Community

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Baghdad: Iraq's Latest Gated Community

In bringing the best of American democracy to our new pals in Iraq, the U.S. military is introducing the concept of keeping the riffraff out. According to The Washington Post, they

have begun a massive effort to seal off Baghdad with a ring of reinforced checkpoints, berms, trenches, barriers and fences in an attempt to clamp down on insurgents.

The report points out that this is not a new strategy in Iraq, as similar efforts to control the flow of traffic have already been put into place in Fallujah and Samarra, but it fails to comment on their effectiveness. Some of our older readers may remember other international efforts to keep people in or out of a city--a certain wall in Berlin leaps quickly to mind.

But walled cities are nothing new. Forts in the American West included more than just military personnel: Merchants and tradespeople lived in safety within their walls. And medieval fortresses used the same concept in their outer walls. Fans of the feudal system may also be familiar with the idea of moats surrounding and protecting a castle or other settlement. You never knew what kind of people might be wandering around and attempting to enter a fortress city, but as long as you knew who was inside your walls, you could keep yourself safe.

But this raises one of the problems with the new boundary system in Baghdad. The military does not know who is inside and who is outside. As the Post points out,

some analysts also say that the United States has never taken what many of them contend is an essential first step: conducting a thorough census, then issuing identity cards and requiring all people to carry them at all times.

When soldiers stop someone at the checkpoints, they're often not going to be able to answer a vital question: Do these people belong here or not? I imagine that if I were in charge of letting people through at a checkpoint (or not) that I'd find that kind of information helpful.

And there are more problems.

It is unclear whether the planned complex of berms, trenches and checkpoints will be effective in Baghdad, a megalopolis of 81 square miles that includes vast stretches of farmland and open terrain. Insurgents and members of private militias might still be able to avoid the checkpoints, and even if they don't, U.S. and Iraqi forces still face the problem of identifying them.

Of course, it's easy for me to sit behind my computer and snipe from the sidelines. War planners should take heart. The wall was very successful for a good couple of decades in Berlin.


At 9:04 PM, September 18, 2006, Anonymous stevie t said...

I always wanted to live in a gated community. You just can't beat the feeling of security it provides.


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