London, March 31 (Reuters): Almost every day, Britain and the US have rowed back from triumphal claims in Iraq after jumping the gun in the propaganda war.
Scrambling for positive news in the battle against President Saddam Hussein, the two allies have announced a string of successes, only to back away from them later after realising they were inaccurate or even outright wrong.
In the latest example, today, British forces retracted a claim that they had captured an Iraqi general in clashes with paramilitaries in southern Iraq yesterday, saying they had misidentified an Iraqi officer.
Just 12 days into the war, the list of inaccuracies ranges from Iraqi uprisings to the premature fall of Iraq’s second city of Basra, as Britain and the US attempt to vindicate their controversial decision to go to war.
But why do they repeatedly fall into the same trap'
Part of the problem is Britain and the US are under pressure politically to make the war a success but have an unclear strategy for psychological warfare, say analysts. That comes against the backdrop of needing to keep up with the furious pace of media covering minute-by-minute developments in the conflict on 24-hour television news.
“It’s not that authorities are trying to create disinformation. In this media-ubiquitous world, they have learned that doesn’t work,” said Michael Clarke, director of the International Policy Institute at Kings College, London. “They are just trying to influence a fast-moving news agenda and they are moving faster than they can or should”.
At a news conference with US President George W. Bush last week, British premier Tony Blair said two dead British soldiers shown on Arab TV network Al Jazeera had been “executed” by Iraq.
The British government later backed away from the accusation after a relative of one of the soldiers told a British newspaper that she had been told the soldier had died in action.
In what would have been a key breakthrough last week, various media separately cited military sources as saying a mass uprising was taking place in Basra. Iraq dismissed the reports as “hallucinations” while Arab television channels showed images of quiet Basra streets. Blair later said there was only a “limited uprising”.
“There’s a compelling need to be relentlessly upbeat and optimistic,” said Jamie Cowling, research fellow at the Institute of Public Policy Research in London.