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Psychological Operation Another Part of War - 2003-03-25

One of the U.S. military's tactics in waging war against Iraq is a huge psychological operations campaign that is aimed at winning over the enemy without physically fighting. Experts say it is too early to tell whether or not the campaign has been effective.

Military combat is not the only way Washington hopes to overcome Iraqi troops. The U.S. military also has been busy trying to persuade Iraqis to give themselves up voluntarily through a psychological operations, or psy-ops, campaign.

Part of the campaign involves propaganda radio messages, as well as e-mail and telephone calls to unit commanders inviting them to negotiate their surrenders. Another important component is the dropping of millions of leaflets into Iraq. Some urge Iraqi troops to surrender or face possible destruction. Others tell ordinary civilians not to hurt their own economic futures by damaging oil fields.

Brigadier General Vincent Brooks says the psy-ops campaign this time has been more intense than during the first Gulf war in 1991. "That accounts for roughly five million more [leaflets] than all of which were dropped in Desert Storm," he says. "Each one of them has a different theme. It's targeted to specific areas -- whether it's to a unit or to the population."

The obvious question is has this psy-ops campaign been effective?

Professor Jerrold Post, director of George Washington University's Political Psychology Program, says it is too early to say. "I think it's important to recall what happened in 1991," he says. "After the conflict, those who too early had indicated their enthusiasm for the overthrow of Saddam were ruthlessly hunted down, along with their families, jailed, tortured and executed."

Professor Post says he believes Iraqis have learned from that example not to act too hastily. "I don't believe we will see people pulling out of the leadership level -- either in defections or more particularly, in terms of any uprising against the leadership -- until, not only is the conflict fully involved and engatged, but also that it is a near-certainty that Saddam is on the way out," he says. "Lest those who carry this out meet the fate of their predecessors."

Professor Post says the leaflets also are aimed at persuading Iraqis not to use weapons of mass destruction -- a strategy he says was successfully utilized in the 1991 Gulf war. "Part of the leafletting was saying anyone who ordered the use of these weapons would be guilty under the war crimes tribunal, and even though Saddam Hussein, himself, may well have wanted to do that, the fact that they were not utilized may not have been a changing of heart of Saddam Hussein as much as, at the end of this conflict, his seniors not wanting to endanger themselves," says Mr. Post.

Speaking to reporters Monday, U.S. Commander Tommy Franks acknowledged that American authorities this time are again trying to convince lower level Iraqis not to use weapons of mass destruction . "My encouragement is not to the highest leadership," he says. "Rather, my encouragement is to the people who will have their fingers on the trigger to use such weapons. We have very carefully said, 'don't do it.'"

General Franks says Saddam Hussein could order the use of such weapons at any time. But he added that he believes Iraqi subordinates are already not following orders, less than a week into the military campaign.

Experts in the Middle East, though, are skeptical that this effort to turn ordinary Iraqis against their leadership will work. Former Egyptian army general and head of Cairo's al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Mohammed Kadry Said, says he does not believe Iraqi people will be persuaded to overthrow Mr. Hussein. "I think this imagination that the Iraqis aren't loyal or they will make a military coup against Saddam is now, I think, forgotten."

Meanwhile, from Baghdad, a defiant Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz rejected the notion that the Americans would be welcomed as liberators. He promised that coalition invaders would be met, not with sweets and flowers, but with bullets and fighting.