Everything is said to be fair in love and war. Telling lies, spreading misinformation and withholding information forms an essential part of any fast moving armed campaign and have ironically been endowed with the respectable name of psychological operations in military parlance. However, it is an age-old game, where psychological manipulations are made in order to confuse the enemy. But there has been a clear overdose of psychological operations in the ongoing Iraq war. In fact, some of the reporters moving with the fighting formation have been party to distorting news to the advantage of the coalition forces.
Millions of viewers around the world watching the war live on television were told that Basra and Nasiriya had fallen when pitched battles were still raging in these urban centres two weeks from the commencement of hostilities. Another big lie was the news of the surrender of an entire Iraqi army division to the coalition forces. There was also news of Saddam’s wife fleeing to the safer zones in Syria to escape the intensive round the clock allied bombing.
Saddam Hussein’s information handlers did not lag behind in misleading the world with lies and half-truths either. The defending Iraqi forces were reported in the Iraqi media to have shot down coalition helicopters, blasted attacking tanks and more. Even in the middle of slowly losing their political and military grip over Iraq, Saddam’s men certainly emerged winners in the information-cum-psychological warfare.
The United States of America has left no stone unturned in stirring up a revolt by the Shia majority in the south besides driving a wedge between the hardline Baath party and its militia and the civilian population. While in the Indian army, the miniscule psychological element of warfare functions under its intelligence wing, the US military establishment has a much bigger organization called the civil affairs and psychological operations command.
In the case of Iraq, the psychological warfare had begun much before the launch of armed attack. Several Iraqi leaders, senior military commanders had repeatedly been offered over telephone, and email promises of safety, asylum, cash and a role in Iraq’s new government if they agreed to defect, mount a coup or not to use biological or chemical weapons. The services of Iraqi opposition leaders living in the West in exile were used for this. But this did not yield any visible results.
Propaganda leaflets were airdropped all over Iraq exhorting Iraqis to help the coalition forces in ousting the autocratic Saddam regime. Even the selective cruise missile barrage combined with satellite guided bunker busting bombs were first aimed at a place where Saddam and his inner circle advisors were huddled up. This was meant to be a signal to Iraqi troops and populace that the fight was to oust the leadership and liberate the people from an oppressive dictatorial rule.
Mind but not the soul
Powerful radio broadcasts beamed at Iraq tried to frighten the Iraqis with accounts of the awesome firepower of the coalition forces much before the bombs, Tomahawk cruise missiles and depleted uranium shells started raining. The aim was to show Washington’s resoluteness and confound the Saddam regime into realizing that the coalition might was enormous and unbeatable. The US focus was on its psychological shock and awe that was designed to bring about an end of Baghdad’s ability to resist. Also to project itself not as occupier but as liberator of an oppressed population from a tyrannical regime.
But somehow the allied tactics have turned out to be a dismal failure except in Kurd-dominated northern Iraq. For the moment, the coalition has lost the battle of hearts, while on the military front too, it is encountering unexpected obstacles resulting in a slowing down of its advance. The US central command has obviously not been able to do justice to the credo of Psy Ops — capture your opponents’ minds and their hearts and souls will follow.