The Biopolitics of Baghdad: Counterinsurgency and the Counter-City
University of British Columbia at Vancouver
Soon after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US military began to explore culture-centric warfare as a means of finding the terms for both occupation and counterinsurgency. The power of the new doctrine is supposed to have been proved by the success of the surge in US combat troops that started in February 2007, which incorporated the new emphases on protecting the civilian population and on ‘non-kinetic’ (non-violent operations), and which has been credited with bringing about a dramatic reduction in ethno-sectarian deaths in Baghdad. This argument ignores the intensification of kinetic operations in and around the capital and the consequent spike in deaths caused by military violence, and it minimizes the role of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in eventually reducing ethno-sectarian deaths as Baghdad rapidly turned from a predominantly Sunni to an overwhelmingly Shia city. These erasures are not accidental: they are directly connected to carefully calculated political effects that result from presenting culture-centric warfare in general and the Surge in particular as intrinsically therapeutic interventions. Such a strategy obscures crucial ways in which the Baghdad Security Plan was complicit in and capitalized on the ethno-sectarian restructuring of the capital. Conversely, disclosure of these connections reveals that political-military and paramilitary operations in Baghdad have frozen rather than resolved the conflict, and that they exemplify a late modern security apparatus that is not only geopolitical but also profoundly biopolitical.