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[casi] Predictable Propaganda: 4 Months of US occupation of Iraq

September 2, 2003

Predictable Propaganda:
Four Months of US occupation of Iraq

In a low monotonous voice, the BBC's terrorism expert stated that "foreign
terrorists" were streaming into Iraq [1]. This is very likely another
fabricated story, created to justify naming the resistance against the US
occupation of Iraq as "terrorism". Furthermore, the death toll is increasing
gradually, and the lies about that are increasing apace. The body bag chart
tells its own story. We are witnessing an escalation of propaganda designed
to divert attention from increasingly grim events occurring in Iraq.

Old Chestnuts

The latest propaganda emanating from both the Pentagon and the US media is
that there is an increasing presence of foreign terrorists in Iraq. Analysts
study the residues of the bomb used against, say, the UN building and
establish the size, type and provenance of the bomb. They also claim some of
these bombs were planted by foreign terrorists--because "the bombs are too
sophisticated" On the face of it, this is a very unlikely explanation at
such an early stage of the investigation of any of the latest bombings.

To understand why these propaganda elements should appear, it helps to
examine some historical precedents. At the height of the military repression
in Brazil during the early 1970s, General Garastazu Medici stated that there
were "foreign influences" among the Leftist groups opposing the military
dictatorship. After all, if Brazilian opponents of the military were being
killed or tortured then some uncomfortable questions would arise. However,
if opponents were mere "foreign terrorists" or "communists" then the
repression wouldn't generate any bad press, and torturing political
opponents was deemed acceptable. In the 1960s, the Americans also engaged in
this type of accusation in Vietnam where "outside forces" were upsetting
their tea party. North Vietnamese fighters or local guerrillas were
considered foreign interference; the fact that the US was a massive outside
influence was, of course, beyond discussion. In light of these earlier
examples, one may be justifiably skeptical of the current claims of "foreign
terrorists" entering Iraq.

The use of "foreign terrorists" is taking over from the claims of "foreign
communists" of yesteryear. It is a splendid accusation because it reminds
Americans that the US is still fighting the "war on terror" -- the false
rationale for the war. It is easy to see how Americans could go sour on the
occupation of Iraq, but it is more difficult for them to reject "the war on
terror." One should expect a marked increase in the "war on terror" refrain,
or its corollary: "foreign terrorists entering Iraq" [2].

Another reason why "foreign terrorists" is an unlikely reality is that
although Iraq's borders are long, they are easily controlled because the
roads through the deserts are limited, and the states surrounding Iraq
cannot be seen as aiding and abetting the guerrilla war. Kuwait, Saudi
Arabia, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey are either opposed to any resistance group
in the area, or simply cannot afford to be found assisting such groups. The
situation for Iran is more complicated, but they will also attempt to avoid
confrontation with the US over the situation in Iraq. But even more
importantly, there is also no need for hordes of fighters to clamber over
the Iraqi border; there are plenty of aggrieved local people who have strong
reasons to oppose the US occupation. And if Iran were interested in getting
involved, all it would take to create serious trouble would be for a senior
Iranian ayatollah to issue a fatwa. An interesting example comes to mind: in
the 1980s ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, and the next day the American
embassy in Pakistan was burned and severely damaged--and local people did

If the occupation in Iraq were viewed as a major conflict against the Iraqi
people, and the impression were given that most Iraqis are hostile to the
US, then this would have several negative connotations. First, Americans
might start asking when this war will end. A continued occupation under such
circumstances is likely to be a bloody affair, unpopular with the public,
and definitely not good for re-election. It is therefore necessary for US
propaganda to emphasize the "foreign terrorist" refrain--giving the
impression that if it weren't for the pesky outsiders everything would go
according to plan. Furthermore, if the US has to use force against the local
population, then all sorts of international legal issues arise pertaining to
the duties of the occupying power. The US has all but abrogated the Fourth
Geneva Convention and other international statutes dealing with torture,
etc.--one only needs to look at the prison it has built in Guantanamo and
the way the prisoners are treated there. However, due to its current
international standing, the US cannot admit this for fear of provoking more
hostility. Hence, the fiction that the US is fighting a "war on terror" is
convenient because it sees no need to observe any international legal
statutes in this self-proclaimed war.

The "foreign terrorist" fiction also lends itself to restarting its war
against countries in the area. The neocons are fighting among themselves to
determine if Syria or Iran should be next in line. If Syria is the flavor of
the month, then "the terrorists are coming from Syria"! Hey, the proof is
very easy to fabricate: just dangle a few bodies from a lamppost and claim
they came from Syria. This propaganda ploy is far easier than finding WMD,
and less likely to cause an embarrassment--dead bodies don't talk. Any
further American claims of "foreign terrorists" needs to be handled with
great skepticism.

The US also can't be seen to be hunting terrorists all the time, and
sometimes it is all too obvious that the locals are actually the targets.
For these reasons, a new variation on the theme has arisen: "fighting local
criminal gangs." On August 26th US troops sought to capture a "criminal
gang" and thus swooped on a tiny town with tanks, helicopters, and more than
1,000 soldiers. Wasn't this a bit of an overkill to capture a criminal gang?
Perhaps the explanation resides in the apparent need to teach an Iraqi town
a lesson for its hostility against the occupiers--kicking in all doors in
the town, and rounding up a few dozen men will probably send the desired
message, and do so in a way that is propaganda compliant, i.e., just
rounding up the hoodlums.

Violent acts perpetrated by the Iraqi resistance cannot be classified as
terrorism and the US response against the local population is circumscribed
by international legal conventions. These facts are uncomfortable, and thus
the need for the propaganda line that the US is fighting a war on terrorism,
and all the noises it makes must be consistent with such a story.
Emergence of a general rule: if a claim is made about the occupation of
Iraq, and all that can be provided as proof are Pentagon statements or
monotonous statements by "terrorism experts", then there is a very high
probability that a new propaganda lie has been fabricated.

The body bag counter

A good barometer of the propaganda in action is the way US military deaths
are reported. Here is a curious example where a fatality has been
reclassified. On August 20th CentCom issued the following communiqué
(abridged, emphasis added):

  August 20, 2003 Release Number: 03-08-40

  BAGHDAD, Iraq--One 3rd Corps Support Command soldier was killed and
another injured in a two-vehicle accident while driving south on the main
supply route southeast of the town of Ad Diwaniyah.
  The soldiers were driving in a supply convoy of Palletized Loading System
vehicles when they received small arms fire and struck another vehicle.

  Security, medical and recovery assets were dispatched to the scene. One
soldier died as a result of the accident.

A day later DefenseLink issued the following confirmation notification
(abridged, emphasis added).

  Aug 21, 2003 DefenseLink No. 613-03
  DoD Identifies Army Casualty.

  The Department of Defense announced today that Spc. Kenneth W. Harris,
Jr., 23, [...] was killed on Aug. 20 in Scania, Iraq. Harris was fatally
injured in a two-vehicle accident while driving south on the main supply
route. Another soldier was also injured in the incident.

Presto! A combat death magically becomes an accidental death so the American
and British media will not need to include this victim in their body count
tallies. One only wonders what the family of the victim will think of this

Given that there is obvious deception in the admission of US-uk fatalities,
it is therefore salutary to view the post-May 1st body bag chart. For some
reason no major news organization publishes this, although a public attuned
to stock charts should have no trouble interpreting it. CNN and BBC have a
tendency of focusing on the latest victims to the exclusion of a more
general trend.

The data used to generate the graph below are different from that used by
most media networks [3]. It includes: (i) soldier fatalities in so-called
accidents--it is highly likely that many accidents were actually due to
hostile action; and (ii) civilians working for the military -- at present
there are one British and one American in this category [4]. It excludes:
(i) foreign soldiers, and civilians working for NGOs, e.g., the UN. It also
excludes foreign nationals who have been deliberately targeted, e.g., the
Jordanian embassy -- there are very good reasons to add such fatalities, but
the available data are limited; (ii) non-Iraqi paramilitary personnel hired
by the "security" companies. These companies are increasingly assuming an
important role in Iraq; they provide the mercenaries who will replace some
functions of the US-uk forces [5].

>From May 1st, the official American declaration of an end to the war and the
start of the occupation, until August 31st, there have been 166 US-uk
fatalities; it is an average of 1.3 per day over this period. The trend of
the fatalities is up and it currently stands at 1.6 per day. At the
projected rates, the forecast for the total number of US-uk deaths between
May 1st and December 31st is about 378.

To put these numbers into perspective, one must realize that most US patrols
have been scaled down, and at present, most military personnel remains
within military compounds. Mercenaries are also taking over duties at
checkpoints, something formerly done by US personnel. These days Gurkhas are
prominent among the guards around Baghdad airport. Even with this lower
profile the death rate is still rising. In other words, the resistance to
the occupation is becoming fiercer.

Finally, for the color of the bodies in the US-uk casualty list, see the
following table:

Post May 1st US/UK Body Colors

       Race/ Ethic Group

Note: for details on the data see footnote 2 of The Parade of the Body Bags.

And now the elections

Now that the US election campaign is moving into full swing, the
propagandists will seek to hide all the unpalatable aspects of the
occupation of Iraq. There will be attempts to stoke the usual fears of
terrorism or remind the American public about 9-11 (hence the recent release
of the transcripts; see [2]). At the same time, everything will be done to
quash references to the mounting American death toll, to the generalized
shambles that Iraq finds itself in, and the opprobrium around the world that
this occupation has brought upon the US.

With an election campaign in the offing, it is a time for a sober assessment
of what Shrub (as the inimitable Texan commentator, Molly Ivins, likes to
refer to Bush Jr.) and the scheming neocons have done for America. Clarity
in terms of the number of soldiers killed, and the reasons for the
opposition to the US-uk troops, is important when evaluating America's
foreign policy and the performance of the Bush regime. One would hope that
our American friends would gain some deeper understanding of the motivation
of their rulers and the way they are being manipulated. Bush recently
stated: "Retreat in the face of terror would only invite further and bolder
attacks. There will be no retreat." Perhaps Americans may well ponder the
meaning of this--endless wars, mounting US soldier body bags, massive budget
deficits, further erosion of civil liberties, and ever more deception flung
at the people of the United States.

This article is a follow up on The Parade of the Body Bags.

Paul de Rooij is a writer living in London, and can be reached at (attachments will be automatically deleted.)

© 2003 Paul de Rooij


[1] August 26, 2003 BBC Radio Four, Today Program.

[2] One should view the recent release of the "Transcripts of frantic calls
made as 9/11 victims tried to flee the burning twin towers" in this light.
It is just an attempt to rekindle the "terrorism" theme, and to deflect the
criticism of the situation in Iraq.

[3] For a more detailed discussion of the data used here see my: The Parade
of the Body Bags, ff. 2.

[4] The American civilian was an interpreter accompanying US troops. An
American soldier who just returned from Iraq confirmed that the interpreters
he saw also wore a camouflage uniform, so it is odd to class them as
civilians and not count them.

[5] US-UK implies that they are equal partners in this war and occupation.
However, the UK provided less than 10% of the armed forces for the war and
the occupation. The UK participation is minimal, and therefore the
designation US-uk conveys the relative weighting of the contribution of the
principal members of the "coalition".

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