A fascinating U.C.L.A. study challenges the success of the U.S. troop surge using a creative metric: satellite images capturing the amount of light at night in Iraqi neighborhoods. The idea is simple: lights at night are an indication of activity. According to the article, no lights imply that people have fled or have been ethnically cleansed. (It also might mean that there is no electricity, or that strict curfews are being enforced, but the authors say that is not a full explanation.)
From the press release:
The night-light signature in four other large Iraqi cities — Kirkuk, Mosul, Tikrit, and Karbala — held steady or increased between the spring of 2006 and the winter of 2007, the U.C.L.A. team found. None of these cities were targets of the surge.
Baghdad’s decreases were centered in the southwestern Sunni strongholds of East and West Rashid, where the light signature dropped 57 percent and 80 percent, respectively, during the same period.
By contrast, the night-light signature in the notoriously impoverished, Shiite-dominated Sadr City remained constant, as it did in the American-dominated Green Zone. Light actually increased in Shiite-dominated New Baghdad, the researchers found.
Until just before the surge, the night-light signature of Baghdad had been steadily increasing overall.
Here’s the question: Will it be enough for the U.S. troops to command the Iraqis to leave their lights on so that things look good for the surge, or will we need to assign troops to shine lights skyward themselves?
(Hat tip: Claude Eilers)