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Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi
"There was no attempt to manipulate the press," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the U.S. military's chief spokesman when the propaganda campaign began in 2004, said in an interview Friday. "We trusted Dexter to write an accurate story, and we gave him a good scoop."
Another briefing slide states that after U.S. commanders ordered that the atrocities of Saddam Hussein's government be publicized, U.S. psychological operations soldiers produced a video disc that not only was widely disseminated inside Iraq, but also was "seen on Fox News."
U.S. military policy is not to aim psychological operations at Americans, said Army Col. James A. Treadwell, who commanded the U.S. military psyops unit in Iraq in 2003. "It is ingrained in U.S.: You don't psyop Americans. We just don't do it," said Treadwell. He said he left Iraq before the Zarqawi program began but was later told about it.
"When we provided stuff, it was all in Arabic," and aimed at the Iraqi and Arab media, said another military officer familiar with the program, who spoke on background because he is not supposed to speak to reporters.
But this officer said that the Zarqawi campaign "probably raised his profile in the American press's view."
With satellite television, e-mail and the Internet, it is impossible to prevent some carryover from propaganda campaigns overseas into the U.S. media, said Treadwell, who is now director of a new project at the U.S. Special Operations Command that focuses on "trans-regional" media issues. Such carryover is "not blowback, it's bleed-over," he said. "There's always going to be a certain amount of bleed-over with the global information environment."
The Zarqawi program was not related to another effort, led by the Lincoln Group, a U.S. consulting firm, to place pro-U.S. articles in Iraq newspapers, according to the officer familiar with the program who spoke on background.
It is difficult to determine how much has been spent on the Zarqawi campaign, which began two years ago and is believed to be ongoing. U.S. propaganda efforts in Iraq in 2004 cost $24 million, but that included extensive building of offices and residences for troops involved, as well as radio broadcasts and distribution of thousands of leaflets with Zarqawi's face on them, said the officer speaking on background.
The Zarqawi campaign is discussed in several of the internal military documents. "Villainize Zarqawi/leverage xenophobia response," one U.S. military briefing from 2004 stated. It listed three methods: "Media operations," "Special Ops (626)" (a reference to Task Force 626, an elite U.S. military unit assigned primarily to hunt in Iraq for senior officials in Hussein's government) and "PSYOP," the U.S. military term for propaganda work.
One internal briefing, produced by the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq, said that Kimmitt had concluded that, "The Zarqawi PSYOP program is the most successful information campaign to date."
Kimmitt is now the senior planner on the staff of the Central Command that directs operations in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.
In 2003 and 2004, he coordinated public affairs, information operations and psychological operations in Iraq -- though he said in an interview the internal briefing must be mistaken because he did not actually run the psychological operations and could not speak for them.
Kimmitt said, "There was clearly an information campaign to raise the public awareness of who Zarqawi was, primarily for the Iraqi audience but also with the international audience."
A goal of the campaign was to drive a wedge into the insurgency by emphasizing Zarqawi's terrorist acts and foreign origin, said officers familiar with the program.
"Through aggressive Strategic Communications, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi now represents: Terrorism in Iraq/Foreign Fighters in Iraq/Suffering of Iraqi People (Infrastructure Attacks)/Denial of Iraqi Aspirations," the same briefing asserts.
Officials said one indication that the campaign worked is that over the past several months, there have been reports that Iraqi tribal insurgents have attacked Zarqawi loyalists, especially in the culturally conservative province of Anbar. "What we're finding is indeed the people of al-Anbar -- Fallujah and Ramadi, specifically -- have decided to turn against terrorists and foreign fighters," Maj. Gen Rick Lynch, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said in February.