Max Boot on the Baghdad walls: just “an update of the old plan known as ‘concentration’ zones or camps”

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The US began building walls throughout Baghdad in early April, hoping to limit population flows and establish obstacles to vehicle-born bombs. The theory is as simple as “If we keep the bad guys out, then we win,” according to 1st Lt. Sean Henley.
Shockingly, the tactic has sparked strong protests from residents of Baghdad, both Sunni and Shia. Last Sunday, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, announced his opposition to the first wall, around the Sunni Adhamiya district: “I oppose the building of the wall and its construction will stop…There are other methods to protect neighborhoods.” Since then, there have been large protests throughout Baghdad, with frequent allusion to the Israeli wall on the West Bank and the Berlin wall. It looks like some sort of wall will ultimately be built around Adhamiya, though “instead of a tall concrete wall, smaller concrete barriers and barbed wire will be used.
It seems, though, that the protests may have been based on a misunderstanding. According to one Max Boot, writing on Commentary’s blog, the walls are really nothing to get worked up about. Here’s his explanation:

The whole process ought to be familiar to students of counterinsurgency. It is, in essence, an update of the old plan known as “concentration” zones or camps. The latter name causes understandable confusion, since we’re not talking about extermination camps of the kind that Hitler built, but rather of settlements where locals can be moved to live under guard, thereby preventing insurgent infiltration. The British used this strategy in the Boer war, the Americans during the Philippine war, and many other powers took similar steps in many other conflicts. In Vietnam they were known as “strategic hamlets.”

Ah, just an update of the old “concentration camp” tactic. Why didn’t they say so in the first place?
Dave Meyer
Photo credits: Ali Yussef/AFP via Iraqslogger.

Comments

25 comments on “Max Boot on the Baghdad walls: just “an update of the old plan known as ‘concentration’ zones or camps”

  1. Pissed Off America says:

    “America soldiers are in the position of trying to keep them from acting on these beliefs. The smug catcalls they may get for this from the occasional stateside blogger won’t bother them, but the episode illustrates how hopeless is the task they’ve been given.”
    I haven’t seen any “smug catcalls” aimed at the troops on the ground. It seems to me that Zathras is just sliding in the back door here with a thinly veiled accusation that opposing this war is tantamount to opposing the troops, or failing to “support” them, as is now the popular rightwing accusation. It seems MP shares the sentiment.

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  2. Gene says:

    They will stop fighting either when they are convinced they have won, or when they are convinced they can’t win — short of that, talk of reconciliation or political settlements is more relevant to American domestic politics than it is to Iraq.
    ————————————————
    Agreed. However, I meant the term ‘political solution’ in the broader sense of intelligent policy. For instance, the Philippine insurgency was defeated by the government recognizing and implementing policies that shifted civilian support away from the insurgency. The result was the insurgency lost (and knew it).
    This administation has lost opportunities for ‘political solutions’ in Iraq at every turn. Largely because of its inability to listen to knowledgable civil servants with realistic views, in favor of ideology.

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  3. MP says:

    Zathras writes: “Sunni Arab and Shiite Iraqis are fighting this civil war because each hates the other, and each thinks it can win — maybe not in the whole country, but at least in its immediate area. America soldiers are in the position of trying to keep them from acting on these beliefs. The smug catcalls they may get for this from the occasional stateside blogger won’t bother them, but the episode illustrates how hopeless is the task they’ve been given.”
    I think this is right.

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  4. Zathras says:

    Per Gene’s comment above, the political settlement that ended the Boer War reflected the fact that the British won and the Boers lost. The Philippine rebellion ended on similar terms. In both cases the winning side kept its victory by wise postwar policies, and in each case later wars found former enemies on the same side.
    Here again, the analogy to today situation in Iraq is unhelpful. One could say, I suppose, that in the Boer War the Imperial forces wisely chose not to impose on the Boers profound changes in their social order or political system — though that choice was rather hard on the actual majority of people then living in what became South Africa — and that this might be instructive in terms of our efforts to create a liberal democracy in an Arab country. This strikes me as mostly a mere debating point.
    I believe historical analogies tend to be overused. The idea that the “solution” in Iraq is political rather than military is too glib; we may not think of assassinations and suicide bombs directed at civilians as military operations, but lots of Iraqis obviously do. They will stop fighting either when they are convinced they have won, or when they are convinced they can’t win — short of that, talk of reconciliation or political settlements is more relevant to American domestic politics than it is to Iraq.
    The “solution” in Iraq is not military only in the sense that the American military cannot impose such a solution at a cost that makes sense from the standpoint of American interests — the only ones that matter. The army we have there has been running, and fighting, on a treadmill for years now, waiting for an Iraqi government to become strong enough one way or another to quell the civil war on its own. My view, as I have written here before, is that the cost of this effort has already exceeded any benefit we might reasonably expect from its success, and that the American commitment in Iraq needs to be liquidated. Some things may well follow from that course in Iraq that would be regrettable, but it is not what happens in Iraq that is most important to the United States.

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  5. della Rovere says:

    When you emulate Nazi methodology on a broad scale it is hard for the practitioner to see any small detail as a problem.

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  6. Frank says:

    Amen POA!!!

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  7. Pissed Off America says:

    For those of you that are naive enough to think that the current batch of democratic presidential hopefuls are going to be any different than these monsters currently burying this nation, heres an article where Hillary is foreshadowing military action against Iran.
    http://tinyurl.com/3bvzqj
    In the same article, Richardson says we should increase aid and military assistance to Israel…
    “He also said economic and military aid to Israel should be increased, and that “the cornerstone of my foreign policy in the Middle East would be a strong relationship with Israel.””
    So even if we were to fumigate Washingtion tonight, and rid it of the traitorous slime on the right, we would still have the slime on the left to deal with. Apparently, Israel is the foundation of American foreign policy in the Middle East, and our hard earned tax dollars are going to continue to subsidize human rights abuses, racism, the violation of UN resolutions, and war crimes, no matter what party is in power in Washington.
    Theres is not a preacher’s chance in hell that I would vote for some asshole that advocates an increase in aid to Israel. We have pissed away enough money supporting their bribery of our elected officials, their espionage against us, their false flag terrorist attacks against our interests, their propaganda and lies that were complicit in hoodwinking the American people into endorsinbg an invasion of Iraq, and their despicable war crimes and abuses against the Palestinians and the Lebanonese.
    If Richardson wants to increase the funding for such abuses and crimes, I suggest he send his own money over there, or better yet, shag his sorry ass over there and take up residence. Good riddance.

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  8. Gene says:

    The British used this strategy in the Boer war, the Americans during the Philippine war, and many other powers took similar steps in many other conflicts. In Vietnam they were known as “strategic hamlets.”
    ————————————————
    Like Zathras said, this was done not to protect civilians but to prevent aid to the insurgency. Same was true in Philippines and Vietnam. None of these three examples is applicable to Iraq, a better example is N. Irelend, as mentioned by TomS. Except unlike N. Ireland, the occupying force in Iraq does not have the support of either sect and very little cultural connection.
    It is interesting to note the Philippine insurgency was defeated through good politics, not just counter-insurgency. The Boer War ended with a political compromise. Politics at home eventually pulled America out of an untenable position in Vietnam.
    Common denominator? Political solution.

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  9. jerry says:

    As far as I’m concerned, we should put up the walls and leave, then if the Iraqis want to take them down and fight – ok, let them.

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  10. semper fubar says:

    Exactly, Jacob and POA. I look at all new initiatives promoted by the Bush administration through the prism of crony contracts. Ahhhh… just one more rathole to launder some taxpayer dollars through! Once you realize that the goal is to enrich themselves and their supporters while robbing the US treasury and bankrupting the taxpayers, everything the administration does makes perfect sense.

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  11. Judy says:

    To respond to some of Jacob Matthan’s questions, see Tony’s blog:http://palestinianpundit.blogspot.com/:
    “Dar Babel for Studies & Information (Mosul) has issued a report (above, in Arabic, April 24, 2007) indicating that work on the “walls” that are now being put up in Iraq have been in preparation for over three months. This project is being headed by Ahmad Al-Chalabi in conjunction with the Israeli company of Zeef Belinsky who has a long track record in ghetto construction, and with Al-Mahdi Army’s financing and labor. The document provides sufficient details on the six work locations producing these concrete blocks, for easier targeting.”

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  12. Carroll says:

    Hummmm….I find this interesting
    “New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who spoke after Clinton, also suggested that he would use a famous former statesman as an envoy in his administration. In Richardson’s case, he was proposing former secretary of state James Baker to serve as a permanent Middle East envoy, a position Richardson would revive should he win the presidency. Baker is a Republican who served under former president George H. W. Bush.
    http://www.jpost.com/
    >>>>>>>>>>>
    However much most liberals hate Baker I have to admit he is just the kind of “consigliere” the ME needs right now.

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  13. Marcia says:

    “Wow.
    Why not kill the males from 15-55? That’s not something the Nazis did, in particular, so it must be ok. Needless to say, this exact idea has been promoted by some right wingers.”
    Posted by marky at April 25, 2007 03:51 PM
    Unfortunately this is something the Nazis did, in Greece. 14 villages were decimated in Crete. On the continent people were starved to death. Our great leaders have not yet tried that method.

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  14. JonU says:

    Max Boot is a an unrepetant proponent of Pax Americana, a knee-jerk apologist of the all the neocon actions that violate the Constitution, a seriously delusional individual, and sadly, recenty installed onto the LA Times senior editorial staff.
    He is yet another example of the radical fringe elements of the neocon movement. That he is taken seriously when he has not a shred of credibility or legitimacy is an example of perhaps one of the biggest threads throughout our current overall debate, and the source of many of the problems we are currently experiencing.
    Why the radical fringe element known as the neoconservative movement is propped up and given legitimacy by MSM sources, when there is no justification for it.

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  15. Pissed Off America says:

    ROFLMAO!!! Mathew Jacob has it exactly right. I saw those concrete blocks and thought, “Aha, now theres some big money being pissed away to some fucking slimey Cheney crony”.
    Take a good look, taxpayer, theres your hard earned money at work, just passing through on its way to the Caymans.

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  16. Dave Meyer says:

    Baghdad residents primarily object to the walls because they are security theater — drastic inconveniences that will provide little to no security benefit. The entire, fleeting, improvement in security since the escalation has been attributable to Sadr’s withdraw from the battlefield, a favor to Maliki. Iraqi shiites know this, and they don’t give much credit to the security measures accompanying to the troop increase. They’ve given even less credit to Maliki’s government, as it’s clear that he’s not calling the shots. With Sadr under pressure to reengage the sectarian battles, a dramatic increase in violence appears imminent.
    It’s worth recalling that then escalation is still supposed to be only a means to an end — political reconciliation. While people like Boot, Bill Kristol, and Fred Kagan flaunt minuscule tactical accomplishments, the entire strategy of the escalation is failing. The political process has collapsed, and it looks increasingly like Maliki’s government is going to follow.

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  17. Chesire11 says:

    The purpose of concentration camps in South Africa and the Philippines was to deprive the insurgents of support by essentially incarcerating sympathetic civilian populations. It was a brutal practice that wasn’t intended to provide security to embattled communities by “keeping the bad guys out” but to keep the “bad guys'” families under lock and key.
    I wonder what the Iraqis would find objectionable about that! (I guess if Mohammed won’t go to Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib will come to Mohammed!)

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  18. TonyForesta says:

    Excellent point Jacob Matthan. The fascist warmongers, profiteers, and pathological liars in the Bush government are resorting to desparate means to glean any positive news, or to proclaim any shred of success with regard to the socalled surge. Far worse than the concentration camp walls, are the biometric identification methods employed to control ingress and egress into these walled camps. This is a precursor to what Americans will be forced to endure should another 9/11likeevent occur, wherein the fascist warmongers, profiteers, and pathological liars in the Bush government will impose martial law, suspend elections, and further dismantle, dismember, and re-engineer the Constitution.
    The Iraqi governent has formally rejected these walling off of communities, yet the fascist warmongers, profiteers, and pathologial liars in the Bush government move full steam ahead against the will of the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi people. Obviously any proclamations of Iraq being a free democratic society, or that the Iraqi government decides matters in Iraq are moot and hollow.
    The sad grim factbasedreality is that no matter how much barbed wire, or how many walls, or how many biometric systems are forced upon Iraqis, – America will always remain an occupying force, and insurgent forces of various sundry sorts will always continue to stike at and attemot to undermine the occupation, and the occupiers.
    “Deliver us from evil!”

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  19. Zathras says:

    The British enforced concentration zones in the latter stages of the Boer War to prevent Boer commandoes from drawing resources from the population, not to keep two factions within the population from slaughtering each other’s civilians.
    This is a fairly complicated situation — for one thing, it is highly unlikely that the American army began constructing these barriers without having gotten consent from the Iraqi government that is now objecting to them. More important than this, though, is that both Maliki and the Sunni Arab population of the neighborhood in question must be feeling pressure from Shiite militias and Sunni Arab insurgents, respectively, who object to measures like the Adhamiya barriers precisely because they might make it harder for each group to attack the civilians on the other side.
    Sunni Arab and Shiite Iraqis are fighting this civil war because each hates the other, and each thinks it can win — maybe not in the whole country, but at least in its immediate area. America soldiers are in the position of trying to keep them from acting on these beliefs. The smug catcalls they may get for this from the occasional stateside blogger won’t bother them, but the episode illustrates how hopeless is the task they’ve been given.

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  20. Tony Prentakis says:

    If either the Bush administration or the Maliki “government” were actually interested in reducing sectarian violence in Baghdad, and if they had any imagination at all, they would try this:
    REWARD THE VICTIMS. Go to the blast sites and the morgues, and hand out large bags of cash to the next of kin, on a non-sectarian basis. Ten Shia get blown up, ten Shia families are made rich. Twenty Sunni turn up shot, twenty Sunni faamilies receive major windfalls.
    Where is the money to come from? Easy: from Iraq’s famously contested OIL REVENUES. Sunni or Shia, your incentive to kill people of the opposite sect must be reduced by the guarantee that you will make their heirs rich, and with the very money you’re fighting over.
    Who can be counted on to hand out the money impartially? Also easy: THE US ARMY. Serving as a heavily-armed Prize Patrol offers certain advantages to the American military:
    1) It is a clear, unilaterally achieveable mission with quantifiable measures of success.
    2) It turns a key weakness into a great strength: no American corporal from Idaho need know or care about the differences between Sunni and Shia.
    3) It changes the B-roll on TV: footage of American troops kicking down doors gets replaced by footage of American troops delivering money to grieving families.
    The essential idea here is to give “the terrorists” an INCENTIVE TO NOT KILL PEOPLE. It is not to stop hunting them down after the fact, or attempting to thwart them before the fact. The idea is not to distribute all the oil money as rewards (or indemnities, if you prefer) to the victims, but to make the rewards large enough to matter. At the very least, even if such a program had no measurable disincentive effect on “the terrorists”, it would provide some measure of solace to the victims’ families.
    It’s a nutty idea, to be sure, but hardly nuttier than the notion that we can wall out, wait out, or wipe out “the terrorists”.

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  21. Jacob Matthan says:

    Could someone answer some simple questions.
    The wall (first stage) is 5 km in length, 3.5 metres high and a average of 0.75 metres thick. (13125 cubic metres, Cement Density is 3120 kg per cubic metre = 41000 tonnes of cement!)
    1. How much cement was used to produce this wall? (Theoretical value is 41000 tonnes)
    2. Where did this cement come from?
    3. Who transported this cement and from where to where?
    3. Who was given the contract to produce each component?
    4. How much was charged to build the components?
    5. Who was given the contract to erect the wall?
    6. How much was the value of this contract?
    6. How many reconstruction projects suffered from this diversion of cement and steel?
    7. From which budget was this money for this project obtained from?
    Answers to these questions will lead you to what the US invasion and occupation of Iraq is all about!
    Lastly – Did anyone think of those words uttered a few years ago which made all Americans feel so proud?
    “Tear down that wall, Mr. Gorbachev!”
    Has that wall been rebuilt in Baghdad making all Americans feel so proud of their Administration?

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  22. marky says:

    Wow.
    Why not kill the males from 15-55? That’s not something the Nazis did, in particular, so it must be ok. Needless to say, this exact idea has been promoted by some right wingers.

    Reply

  23. Tom S says:

    Max Boot is an idiot.
    The barriers and gates are/were standard practice in Belfast to keep Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods apart, and to control access to downtown areas. The Brits began using them after a spate of car bombings in downtown Belfast. They were effective in “calming” ajoining neighborhoods, and in reducing car bomb atacks. And, hey, only 30 years later, a settlement may be at hand!

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  24. Carroll says:

    Max Boot- ugh.
    But if building walls is what it takes to unite the shiites and sunnis, build more. The sooner they join together against a common enemy the sooner we can get out.

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  25. Neal says:

    The wall:
    From a PR standpoint-very bad, correlated with the Israeli walls, Berlin wall and ghettoes of WWII.
    From a social standpoint-even worse-people who are not predominant group in that area will be forced out and like people will be forced in, increasing segregation.
    From a security standpoint-even worse than worse- concentration of a target group, mortar shells flying in all night long, snipers and bombings at the entry point, only one way in and out of the island, and finally, walls are very convenient to hold people in and to line up against during the final “night of the long knives”.
    Where do they come up with these ideas?

    Reply

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