Ethnic Cleansing and Violence in Baghdad

The Washington Post carries a story on the front page of its Sunday edition, which describes the changing nature of residential segregation in Baghdad, from the perspective of returning refugees and displaced persons. Included is a compelling map [click the link on the left for a larger view] of Baghdad showing the dynamics of the process of ethnic cleansing (and ethnic consolidation) of Baghdad’s map_ethnic_cleansing_baghdad.gifneighborhoods between April 2006 and November 2007.

This could have something to do with the decreasing levels of violence in Baghdad over the last six months or so. (Of course, the increased US troop presence helps, but a more compelling argument comes out of work by many political scientists on the rational, or strategic, nature of inter-ethnic violence. The violence that is perpetrated by the respective sides during episodes of inter-ethnic conflict is rarely random.

In my own work in Croatia, there was a compelling strategic logic to the violence perpetrated by both sides. Territory–towns, regions, cities, etc.,–that was deemed strategically important was targeted, while territory that was not strategically important was left alone. A similar dynamic may be occurring in Baghdad. With the task of segregation of Baghdad’s neighborhoods a fait accompli, the need and desire, on the part of the sectarian militias, to use violence has diminished considerably.

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