Volume 1, Number 1 (2008)

The Biopolitics of Baghdad: Counterinsurgency and the Counter-City

Derek Gregory

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.