'Gated communities' planned for Baghdad (modelled on Vietnam)

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The military's new strategy for Iraq envisions creating "gated communities" in Baghdad — sealing off discrete areas and forcibly removing insurgents, then stationing American units in the neighborhood to keep the peace and working to create jobs for residents.

The U.S. so far has found it impossible to secure the sprawling city. But by focusing an increased number of troops in selected neighborhoods, the military hopes it can create islands of security segregated from the chaos beyond.

The gated communities plan has been tried — with mixed success — in other wars. In Vietnam, the enclaves were called "strategic hamlets" and were a spectacular failure. But counterinsurgency experts say such zones can work if, after the barriers are established, the military follows up with neighborhood sweeps designed to flush out insurgents and militia fighters....

Counterinsurgency experts say the gated communities technique could work in any neighborhood. Some argue that focusing first on a less violent area could give U.S. forces a much-needed win, as well as momentum that could help in tackling the most violent areas.

"You want to start where you will be successful," said Conrad Crane, one of the authors of the military's counterinsurgency manual. "You want to get some success and build from there."

The gated communities model is an updated version of the strategic hamlets model used in Vietnam. There, people were moved to villages the military thought it could defend, or were moved to entirely new villages.

"It didn't work," Crane said. "They ended up locking up the insurgents with the population in these new hamlets…. It actually helped the Viet Cong with recruiting."

But the strategy worked when used by the British in Malaya in the 1950s, successfully cutting off the insurgents from the population and from their supplies, Crane said. It also was used by the French in fighting insurgents in Algiers in the 1950s, and by the British in ensuing decades in Northern Ireland, said Marine Lt. Col. Lance A. McDaniel, another author of the military counterinsurgency manual.

In Iraq, Crane said, the strategy could work because it would not involve moving people, but rather providing security so they could remain in their neighborhoods.

"It would be done with much more cultural sensitivity," Crane said. "You are trying to identify who belongs and who doesn't. You need to know who is supposed to be there and who is not. When someone outside the area shows up, they are often the ones creating the problems."

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