Today, I made a short video documenting all combat incidents involving deaths (in Michigan colors no less). I mapped the kernel density of the points using the spatstat package in R. You can watch the entire Iraq War in just over 1 minute!
Using this method to visualize the war presents some really interesting results. The war starts out and conflict pretty much occurs all over the place. Around the time of the surge, fighting becomes intensely concentrated around the Baghdad area, but quiets down for the rest of the country. Events slowly start to move north, so that all of Baghdad and the northern area are regions of intense fighting. By the end of 2009, things begin to quiet down again, but with some sporadic events spread over the countryside again.
At the time of the surge, I am reminded of Agent Based simulations, and wonder if the increase in intensity of fighting in Baghdad actually propagates itself, forcing insurgents to concentrate resources in Baghdad at the expense of the rest of the country. As fighting dies down, and need for fighting decrease, insurgents leave the city, taking the fight with them. My theory would be that intense fighting concentrates combat events more, whereas mid-level and low intensity fighting allows conflict to spread geographically, due to distribution of resources.
As the surge increased the number of US soldiers in Baghdad, insurgents were forced to concentrate their resources withing the city, reducing their ability in fighting for control of outlying areas. Clearly, this is to the strategic advantage of the Occupying force, as they do not need to expend incredible resources fighting a war over a large geographic space, and, with superior firepower and technology, they are able to quash a large number of insurgents in a small amount of time. It could be a bait and trap tactic, but clearly it is to the incredible disadvantage of the civilian population. While likely not the target of US forces (seriously, what would be the merit in that?), they clearly become a target of insurgents and candidates for widespread suicide terror campaigns. Insurgent deaths are maximized at little financial and temporal cost, but civilians become caught in the cross-fire and become an easy target of fear-based propaganda strategies. Whether this was truly the strategy behind the surge, is up to speculation. It’s also very possible that insurgents had previously moved into the Baghdad area with the same strategy. Obviously, this isn’t something I have thought through very deeply, but it’s worth exploring.