I’m a city kid. I grew up in a City Housing Project in Brooklyn, New York and lived in Brooklyn until I was in High School when my parents dragged me to what I felt was the end of the earth – Suffolk County, Long Island, New York.
While many of my colleagues in ROTC Camp and training experiences beyond that knew their way around the woods and maxed the day and night compass courses where every pine tree looked the same, I was an urban kind of guy out of my concrete and subway element.
USA Today on 7 February ran a page one article “Al-Qaeda targets hearts, minds – New tactics seek to raise local image” exploring how the enemy has “shifted tactics to try to improve their image among Iraqis...”
Baghdad is a City with a population north of 6 million people, which is about ¾ of the size of New York City as I remember it. Nevertheless, the culture of neighborhoods, especially ethnically rooted ones remains the same. Your building is part of a block, blocks are the fundamental components of neighborhoods. Buildings and blocks may not have designated leaders, but neighborhoods certainly do. The key to success is forging strong relationships with Neighborhood leaders and influencers. In the same way that the success of crime prevention rests on the concept of the beat cop who knows the people on his beat and who has earned their respect and trust.
This kind of relationship implies open, honest and timely communication. Neighborhood leaders don’t like surprises and they appreciate being taken into the confidence of those they trust and expect mutual trust and consideration in return.
In return Leaders can provide access to key communications channels and venues, formal and informal. They can also provide guidance as to what media has the most credibility and influence and perhaps, in certain cases, act as credible spokes people to their respective publics.
The article implies that the US is being successful in Baghdad because of a neighborhood centric approach, and reports that this same approach won’t work in Mosul. Mosul is Iraq’s third largest city with an estimated population of 2 million or so making it about the same size as Houston, TX. Al’ Qaida has purportedly changed their strategy for Mosul to reduce harm to civilians and avoid the backlash they suffered in other areas. The result is less willingness on the part of the citizens to work with the Coalition.
It’s my feeling that the neighborhood approach is the only way to win in large cities. While there may be sensitive issues concerning the comparable treatment of the different ethniticities, there may be a primitive way to address the problem. That is to designate a lead for each neighborhood and a ‘super’ lead for the ethnic group. The structure would be based on the mafia where there was a captain (cappo) who was the local boss and there would be the boss of bosses (cappo tutti cappo) who is the senior leader for the group.
A council of these senior leaders might be able to serve as the ultimate authority to resolve issues that arise to their level. Regardless of the organization, due respect must be given to the notion of blocks and neighborhoods in order to succeed in urban areas.