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NEWSWEEK: Baghdad Embassy Draft Report: 'Inadequate Message Control in Iraq Is Feeding The Escalating Cycle of Violence'

Many Attacks on U.S. Forces Filmed, Edited Into Slick Propaganda Films and Ready to Download Within Hours; Some Attacks May Be Staged Mainly to Generate New Footage

NEW YORK, Jan. 7 /PRNewswire/ -- A draft report recently produced by the Baghdad embasy's director of strategic communications Ginger Cruz suggests that despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars, the United States has lost the battle for Iraqi public opinion, reports Baghdad Bureau Chief Scott Johnson in Newsweek's January 15 issue (on newsstands Monday, January 8). "Insurgents, sectarian elements and others are taking control of the message at the public level," the draft states. Videos of U.S. soldiers being shot and blown up, and of the bloody work of sectarian death squads, are now pervasive. The images inspire new recruits and intimidate those who might stand against them. "Inadequate message control in Iraq," the document warns, "is feeding the escalating cycle of violence." (A U.S. Embassy spokesperson claims the draft reflects Cruz's personal views, not official policy.)

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Sunni insurgents in particular have become expert at using technology to underscore -- some would say exaggerate -- their effectiveness. "The sophistication of the way the enemy is using the news media is huge," Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, told Newsweek just before he returned to the United States. Most large-scale attacks on U.S. forces are now filmed, often from multiple camera angles, and with high- resolution cameras. The footage is slickly edited into dramatic narratives: quick-cut images of Humvees exploding or U.S. soldiers being felled by snipers are set to inspiring religious soundtracks or chanting, which lends them a triumphal feel. In some cases, U.S. officials believe, insurgents attack American forces primarily to generate fresh footage. Advancements in technology have also made these videos easy to download and disseminate. "Literally, it's only hours after an attack and [the videos] are available," says Andrew Garfield, a British counterinsurgency expert who has advised U.S. forces in Baghdad. "You can really say it's only a cell-phone call away."

What the insurgents understand better than the Americans is how Iraqis consume information, reports Johnson. Popular Arab satellite channels like Al- Jazeera and Al-Arabiya air far more graphic images than are typically seen on U.S. TV-leaving the impression, say U.S. military officials, that America is on the run. At the extreme is the Zawra channel, run by former Sunni parliamentarian Mishan Jibouri, who fled to Syria last year after being accused of corruption. (Jibouri says he's being persecuted for political reasons, and can return to Iraq whenever he wants.) Since November the channel has been spewing out an unending series of videos showing American soldiers being killed in sniper and IED attacks. The clips are accompanied by commentary, often in English, admonishing Iraqis to "focus your utmost rage against the occupation." Among Sunnis and even some Shiites, Zawra has become one of the most popular stations in Iraq. "I get e-mails from girls in their 20s from Arab countries; some of them are very wealthy," Jibouri boasts. "Some offer to work for free, some offer money."

The U.S. military's response, on the other hand, usually sticks to traditional channels like press releases. These can take hours to prepare and are often outdated by the time they're issued. Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, director of the military's press operations in Baghdad until last September, complains that all military-related information has to be processed upward through a laborious and bureaucratic chain of command. "The military wants to control the environment around it, but as we try to [do so], it only slows us down further," he says. "All too often, the easiest decision we made was just not to talk about [the story] at all, and then you absolutely lose your ability to frame what's going on."

The consequences of losing the propaganda battle are real, reports Johnson. "One of these videos is worth a division of tanks to those people," says Robert Steele, a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer. Not only do the insurgent videos draw recruits and donations, they don't give ordinary Iraqis much incentive to cooperate with the Americans.

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Source: Newsweek


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