On March 6, 1984, as the Iran-Iraq war ground into its fourth year, six obviously frightened 14- and 15-year-old Iranian boys, their eyes directed at the floor, were made to stand in the glare of television cameras in Baghdad and denounce the war they were fighting.

Earlier this week, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein made his newest prisoners of war -- three Americans, two Britons, an Italian and a Kuwaiti -- face the world with their bruised faces and halting speech, images that sent a message of coercion. Yesterday he displayed two more captured Americans -- identified as Air Force Maj. Jeffrey Scott Tice and Capt. Harry Michael Roberts -- on Iraqi television.

But the message behind the message -- what Saddam wants Iraqis, other Arabs and the Western world to glean from these apparently forced appearances -- is likely a mixed bag, Iraqi experts and former POWs say. And, like Saddam's recent attempt to turn public opinion in his favor by holding U.S. civilians hostage, his decision to show off POWs from the Persian Gulf War is likely to backfire, they say.

"The more threatened Saddam becomes, the more threatening he becomes," said Jerrold Post, professor of psychiatry, political psychology and international affairs at George Washington University. "He's in a totally defiant position."

The United States and its allies in the war have protested Iraq's treatment of the captives as an infringement of the Geneva Conventions, signed by 164 countries including Iraq, which outline the appropriate treatment of POWs during wartime. Specifically, Article 13 of the convention states that prisoners "must at all times be treated humanely" and "must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity."

In an interview with National Public Radio yesterday morning, Said Hadar, Iraq's ambassador to Belgium, was asked to explain why Iraq was acting contrary to the convention. He answered by criticizing the United States for its "selectivity" in applying some international resolutions and ignoring others, specifically U.N. resolutions dealing with the Palestinians.

Asked why Iraq would make these prisoners human shields at strategic sites, he replied, "What is the reason {for the allies} to bombard civilians?"

Appearing on videotape broadcast on U.S. television networks yesterday, Tice and Roberts spoke with what seemed to be contrived accents. In one broadcast, Roberts said, "I was shot down before reaching my target south of Baghdad." Tice said, "I was to an attack an oil refinery near Baghdad. I was shot down by a surface-to-air missile."

Tice is from Sellersville, Pa., and Roberts from Savannah, Ga., according to the Pentagon's missing-in-action list.

The Iraqi television broadcast was picked up on Iranian television, where technicians taped and transmitted copies of it to the United States via Tokyo, a Cable News Network spokesman said.

Saddam's intended audience may be broad and disparate.

He may be trying to shatter the resolve allied troops need to go into battle and to inflame the emotions of Americans at home for whom the war has still largely been described in terms of its technology and strategy.

Saddam tried the same tactic -- albeit with a much gentler hand -- with the hundreds of Western hostages he held for months before reversing his position and freeing them. Arab and Western diplomats in Baghdad at the time said they believed Saddam had realized he had misread U.S. public opinion and was convinced by the appeals of other Arab leaders that his actions had backfired.

While the images of captive pilots struggling with their words is indeed grim, few believe the American public, much less its deployed military, will be swayed by these sights.

"It has no military value -- these {pilots} are professional people, they've been trained and are totally committed," said Ben Pollard, a former POW in Vietnam. "It just makes you madder. You're just more determined to do your job."

Then there is the pro-Saddam Arab population in the Middle East. To them, the humiliation of U.S. fighters may be an end in itself. "It's a demonstration you aren't powerless," said Gary Sick, a former National Security Council staff member. "When you can't do anything else, that's one of the few things left to do."

Finally, Saddam may be trying to vindicate the suffering of his people. "For foreigners it is an unpleasant picture, but for Iraqis it may be 'Ah ha, we've got them,' " said Salim Mansoor, an Iraqi-born physician who is a member of the nonprofit American-Iraqi Foundation, which secured the release of 14 U.S. hostages from Iraq.

"Some countries say, 'We are in a state of war, so what about the Geneva Convention,' " Mansoor said. In the United States "we are sitting here watching the war on TV." In Iraq "they say, 'To hell with {international law}, they are killing my kids, they are bombing my neighbors.' "