Kilcullen on the Walls in Iraq

Noah Shachtman interviews the best thing to happen to the US war effort, Dave Kilcullen, at Danger Room. Dave is the Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor in Iraq and is the man bringing the servers hosting the Small Wars Journal’s blog to their knees with his rightly popular posts, most recently this update and reality check on the surge.

“The point of the walls was to structure the environment, to hold the city and keep it safe,” he tells DANGER ROOM. “It’s like [keeping] guard inside a concrete building, instead of in the middle of a field… You don’t need vast maneuver forces to do it… It’s the principle of economy of force.”

Now that the eleven sets of walls across Baghdad have been built — “controlling access, preventing attacks on the community, and preventing attacks from being launched on someone else,” Kilcullen says — “we’re now in a position to move against the [insurgent] havens.”

“Murders and sectarian killings have dropped 63%” in Baghdad’s Adhamiya neighborhood, since the wall has been put in place, he claims.  Residents are “thrilled.”

Initially, the barrier there — and in other locations around Iraq’s capitol — drew protests and international outcry.  Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki even called for a halt in construction, saying, “I oppose the building of the wall and its construction will stop. There are other methods to protect neighborhoods.”  But Kilcullen asserts that most of the local protests were “information operations” conducted by insurgent groups, meant to undermine U.S. plans to improve Baghdad’s security.   

“Every district in Baghdad [already had] its own defense,” the counterinsurgency adviser says.  The walls were built after consultations with local leaders, “figur[ing] out together how to make the community safe, what part of the defenses needed repair.”

Readers will note I was critical of Adhamiya wall, not because they were inherently wrong, but because of our failure to anticipate the impact of their perception and proactively get in front of enemy propaganda. Which is why Adhamiya, the third wall to be built, gained worldwide attention as Dave notes above. All of our actions must be considered in the context of information. We must appeal directly to “the people of the media, speakers and writers. [We] must tell the truth and cast [our] arrows at falsehood, for media is half of the battle.”* It seems we’re doing better at local, tactical IO.

*May 2, 2007, proclamation signed by the Iraqi Army of Iraq (IAI), Mujahidin Army, and Ansar al-Sunnah. See the RFE/RL report on Sunni insurgent media.