Although President George W. Bush has not made the final decision that the United States will lead a military coalition to disarm Iraq, psychological warfare by the U.S. military is already well underway. The campaign is aimed at both Iraqi soldiers and civilians.
Flying from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, U.S. warplanes have released millions of leaflets over Iraq.
They warn Iraqi civilians to keep safely away from military installations and tell Iraqi soldiers they will be bombed if they aim weapons at coalition aircraft flying over their country.
Psychological warfare is designed to influence a potential enemy without the use of violence, said Lieutenant Colonel Ed Worley, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command's forward headquarters in Qatar. "Our desire is to not fight a conflict with the Iraqi military. Anytime you have war people die. The goal of the information warfare campaign is to make sure that we can do what we need to do, to disarm this Iraqi regime led by Saddam Hussein, without ever having to fire a shot," he explained.
In addition to leaflets, the U.S. military is broadcasting radio programs in Arabic to the Iraqi people on short-wave, medium wave and FM frequencies.
Lani Kass, professor of military strategy at the National War College in Washington, said the most effective message is one President Bush has already sent. "Well it seems to me that the message is, or should be, the one that the president sent in his State of the Union address to the Iraqi people, basically saying your enemy is not surrounding your country. Your enemy is enslaving you. Meaning Saddam Hussein is the enemy, not the United States. That to me is a very powerful message," Ms. Kass said.
Ben Abel, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, said the broadcasts try to convince listeners in Iraq that the goal of the U.S. led coaltion would be to liberate them from the government of Saddam Hussein. "I think a lot of the enemies that we go up against have been misled as to what the military's aim is. I think that was very evident in Afghanistan, as the most recent example. We are not there as conquerors. We are not there to take over their country. We are there to help them, to liberate them and to try to see them on to a better way of life. When people are lied to for such a long, long time you have to keep reemphasizing your point. Psychological operations is a way that we do that," he said.
News reports say the U.S. military has also been sending e-mails and calling the mobile telephones of Iraqi commanders, urging them to surrender, or at least remain neutral during a war.
Professor Lani Kass said information warfare can target specific concerns. "The United States wants to make sure that no weapons of mass destruction are used. Hence there was a direct message sent to Iraqi commanders, basically saying do not do that or you will be facing a war crimes tribunal. So you have a variety of outcomes which you are trying to achieve, all of them designed at the military level to minimize the violence and shorten military operations in order to essentially save lives on both sides," she said.
Ms. Kass said it is difficult to measure the impact of information warfare, although she said during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, many of the approximately 87,000 Iraqi soldiers who surrendered were holding coalition leaflets.
Professor Kass said prisoners revealed during interrogations that the leaflets worked, and were especially convincing to Iraq's regular soldiers.