Thursday, January 7, 2010

Regional Security Perceptions in Iraq

Obviously, security is a critical issue in assessing the likelihood that the al-Shahrastani plan can really be executed in any reasonable period of time. I found some interesting statistics in the quarterly reports that the US Department of Defense is obligated to file with congress. The most recent one is for September 2009 (pdf). It looks like there ought to be a December report but it's not out yet.

Some of the most interesting things in the September report are some maps illustrating polling data of the Iraqi people's perception of security.

First one big caveat. People's perception of crime in general can be extremely inaccurate. For example, in the US people tend to think crime is bad and getting worse, even when it's actually getting better. My suspicion is that people's perception of crime is often formed by the media, which tends to emphasize crime stories, and that the availability_heuristic means that people remember more recent crime stories better than old ones and therefore think crime must be getting more common. That said, the regional patterns in these maps are strong, and probably mean something.

Not too inspiring that barely half the people would consider the country stable! (Though I'm not sure how many Americans or Germans would say in a poll that their country was unstable - there tends to be a certain fraction of people who show up with very strange opinions in any poll).

I have the most confidence in the "Neighborhoods are Secure" question.  People have direct day-to-day knowledge of whether their own neighborhood is secure and so their opinion on that question is probably worth a lot.  By contrast, opinions on questions like whether the whole country is secure, or whether traveling somewhere else in the country is safe, may be overly influenced by media images of spectacular attacks, which, while they can indeed be very spectacular, are comparatively rare and not necessarily serious threats to the security of the country.

From the perspective of oil development, it would seem to be most relevant to consider the security where the oilfields are.  For that purpose, I created an overlay of the "Neighborhoods are Secure" map with the oilfield map from Tuesday's post.  Here is the result (the two maps don't line up perfectly):

You can click on the image to get a larger version in a new window.

The thing that becomes clear after studying the map for a while is that almost all the production in the al-Shahristani plan comes from Basra and secondarily Maysan (formerly Amara) province in the south. Both of these have very high perceived neighborhood security.


Manolo said...

"perceptions" can change in a blink of an eye, especially in a country where car bombs are still "BAU" ...
My guess: extremists of all boards will follow the development as closely as we do, and will, I am almost 100% certain, stage their atrocities just where we are going to place our highest hopes. Don't bet on 12Mbpd anytime soon, it's too tempting to disrupt the last line of hope. Just to say...

Stuart Staniford said...

I think this model kind of assumes that the extremists haven't already being making their best efforts... I tend to take the view that extremists are already trying hard, and what matters is affecting their recruiting environment, as well as identifying them and locking them up.

Manolo said...

Stuart, I have no doubt that on a long enough timeline, Iraq is a highly interesting play. But right now, just about everything there is a big mess. I do have my ears on the ground, so to speak, and listen to quite a few people from the area. My understanding is, the projected timeline is nothing more than wishful thinking. To many "above ground" factors are hostile. Big money will make things worse before it gets any better. IMVHO, count a generation or two to get to a somehow "normal" mode, where people can work as we are used to.
Irak, like so many other propositions floating around (Ultra Deep Sea, Arctic, etc. are just so many "hopes" thrown in to an impossible equation: keeping BAU alive,at any cost.
BTW, the 'insurgents' seem to do "quite well", it's just not covered by our MSM...

Stuart Staniford said...

Manolo - I agree that media coverage is a poor guide to trends. That's why I mainly draw my conclusions from data like that in the Brooking's Iraq Index where pretty much all indicators show steady improvement. Not to say it couldn't turn around, but right now the situation is getting steadily better.

James said...

I think that different insurgent groups will have different motivations for launching attacks - thus stats on attacks against civilians may not tell us much about possible attacks on infrastructure. Some points I think worth considering are:
(i) With US forces scheduled to withdraw from Iraq over the next couple of years, could insurgents be biding their time?
(ii) In particular, might we see open conflict between Muqtada al-Sadr (who gains a lot of street cred from being uncompromisingly anti-american) and al-Maliki once US forces are not around to back al-Maliki up anymore?

What role might Iran play in all this? Iran certainly won't be well served by much lower oil prices. They would be very well served by a source of leverage over the west as powerful as skyrocketing oil prices.

I really think that Iran is the key variable in all this. They could be flexing their muscles much more in Iraq than they have been doing. I suspect they are biding their time as US forces withdraw. As that process continues Iranian influence in Iraq can only grow. As Juan Cole says about the provincial elections earlier this year [see]:
(i) Shiite religious parties again swept the Shiite south (which Stuart has pointed out is where almost all of the al-Shahristani is supposed to come from), and
(ii) "There is nothing here to give comfort to those Americans who fear Iranian influence in Iraq".