RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA, FEB. 6 -- Allied forces using airplanes, artillery and rockets have spread 14 million leaflets in occupied Kuwait urging Iraqi soldiers to surrender and promising "Arab hospitality" if they do, the Saudi command announced tonight.
The leaflets have been a prominent feature in a psychological-warfare program that also includes Arabic-language radio broadcasts denouncing President Saddam Hussein's government and condemning the Iraqi takeover of Kuwait as a violation of Arab brotherhood. U.S. and allied specialists were understood also to be using fake radio transmissions on Iraqi military frequencies, but the Central Command has refused to discuss this.
Defections and surrenders are high priorities for the U.S. and Saudi commands, particularly from among the conscript troops manning Iraq's front-line defenses in southern Kuwait. Said to be poorly trained and equipped, these troops have been described as more likely to give up than the professional 150,000-man Republican Guard units stationed farther north along the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border.
Despite widespread hopes among U.S. officers in the field, there have been no mass defections in the first three weeks of war. But signs have multiplied in recent days that a relentless bombing campaign, combined with psychological persuasion -- such as by leaflet -- is having an effect on the morale of front-line troops.
50 Officers, 835 Men
The chief Saudi military spokesman, Col. Ahmed Robayan, said Saudi forces have captured or received from allied armies a total of 885 Iraqi prisoners of war since the Persian Gulf conflict began Jan. 17. Of these, he added, 50 are officers, the highest ranking a major.
U.S. military sources said some of the prisoners had body lice after months in bunkers. Others spoke of sharing bowls of rice for their scarce meals, the sources said, and some prisoners told of orders to noncommissioned officers to keep watch lest their men try to sneak south toward the border to defect.
About half the prisoners surrendered during the battle for the coastal town of Khafji last week in circumstances that Saudi officers have never made clear. Most of the rest walked across the border individually or in small groups, a number of them carrying the leaflets in their pockets, allied spokemen say.
"The leaflets are just one of many things we apply on the battlefields, and I'm sure they contribute just like other things, such as the heavy bombardment," said Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Neal, the Operation Desert Storm deputy operations chief. "They're sick of the day-in, day-out, day-and-night air campaign against them."
Two Iraqi officers and four enlisted men drove across the heavily defended border Tuesday night in a British-built Land Rover to surrender to a Marine unit, Neal reported. He said they carried no weapons or gas masks but that some had the leaflets. A senior military source said one of them told his captors: "If you'd kill Saddam, then all this would stop."
Eleven more gave up to U.S. Army troops at another point on the border, but the details were unclear, Neal added. According to procedure among allied forces, the 17 prisoners will be turned over to Saudi authorities for internment in Saudi-run camps, he explained.
Plenty of Leaflets Left
Robayan said the allies have printed 25 million leaflets promising good treatment for Iraqis who surrender and depicting Saddam as a tyrant who has led his people to risk death.
One leaflet shows King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and Saddam as if speaking. From Fahd's mouth comes a cartoon bubble showing three Arab soldiers with their hands linked in friendship. Saddam's bubble shows soldiers lying dead on the battlefield, a tank, an Iraqi flag and a soldier firing a machine gun.
"We are all brothers," the leaflet declares on the reverse side. "Arab neighbors. We yearn for peace."
Another leaflet, entitled "Safe Conduct Card," says the carrier is entitled to passage through allied lines and "good treatment until arrival at the nearest allied forces command post." The reverse side shows an Iraqi soldier turning himself over to allied forces while thinking of his family back home.
"If you want to preserve your life," the Safe Conduct Card says, take the magazine from your rifle, carry it on your shoulder with the barrel pointed down, put your hands over your head and walk slowly toward allied outposts with a leaflet held over your head.
"You are invited to join the allied forces with full assurances of the obligation of Arab hospitality, security, peace and medical care," another leaflet says, "and the return to your family with the prospect of ending the situation into which you were thrust by Saddam."
A senior military source said U.S. and allied soldiers have orders to watch carefully for defectors to avoid having potential prisoners shot. At the same time, he acknowledged a number of Iraqis waved white cloths during the battle for Khafji as if they wanted to surrender, only to scamper for cover as fellow Iraqi soldiers ambushed approaching Saudi soldiers.
Similarly, Saudi soldiers reported that several Iraqi tanks drove into Khafji with their turret cannons pointed north in what was believed to be a sign of surrender, only to turn around and open fire at nearby Saudi vehicles.