Swans Commentary » swans.com Special Issue on Iraq - February 2, 2004  







Propaganda Iraq

Gerard Donnelly Smith




(Swans - February 2, 2004)   Language shapes reality. Repeating the same false information using publicly accredited media eventually creates a semblance of truth, as if the false event and its false casual relationships actually happened. The media -- news, movies, secular and sacred literature -- shape the public's imagination. What an individual can imagine about a people, a place, or an event depends upon the knowledge that individual holds: who provides that knowledge also controls what the individual can surmise, infer or conclude about any given natural or supernatural phenomenon. Who controls the media also controls the individual's fears and hopes, creates the individual's demons and angels.

The current occupation of Iraq by the United States of America resulted from a unilateral decision to confront the so-called supporters of terrorism on their home ground. However, the justification for the invasion was created through propaganda, which included half-truths, glittering generalities, transfer and lies.

From the beginning of the "War on Terror," started shortly after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, truth has been a relative term. Facts, usually the foundation of scientific inquiry, rationale decision-making, and common sense, have become less stable than desert sand: as if facts were not tangible at all, but a mirage appearing only to bolster forlorn hope and foster comfort; as if facts were shadowy, slippery things that change shape or form like double gangers who fulfill desires for revenge and indignation. Rather than clarifying the truth, language has been used to muddle the facts, as if a new Tower of Babel had just fallen.

Propaganda, as a tool for manipulating or shaping reality, was first employed for religious purposes: to propagate the faith. The citizens of Babylonia (currently Iraq) have been particularly plagued by religious propaganda. Their lands became associated with the Eden of Semitic legend: in Genesis (ii, 14), the Euphrates flows through the biblical paradise. Throughout Jewish history, as recorded in their bible, Babylon has been the enemy, the epitome of evil: called idolatrous, profane and sacrilegious, wicked, and addicted to magic. According to Kings, Nebuchadnezzar II (650-563 B.C.), the King of Babylonia, besieged Jerusalem, spoiled its temple, burned the city to the ground, and enslaved its people. Indeed, Babylon seems to have been the supernatural tool used to punish the Jews who had forgotten their god's words:

4: For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will make thee a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends: and they shall fall by the sword of their enemies, and thine eyes shall behold it: and I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall carry them captive into Babylon, and shall slay them with the sword.
5: Moreover I will deliver all the strength of this city, and all the labours thereof, and all the precious things thereof, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah will I give into the hand of their enemies, which shall spoil them, and take them, and carry them to Babylon.
6: And thou, Pashur, and all that dwell in thine house shall go into captivity: and thou shalt come to Babylon, and there thou shalt die, and shalt be buried there, thou, and all thy friends, to whom thou hast prophesied lies. (Jeremiah 20 verses 4 - 6)

Even more frightening is the depiction of Babylon in later religious text adopted by Christians as their manifest destiny. In Revelations,

And he [an angel] cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a habitation of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury." (Rev. 18.2-3)

Such history and language, has an immense impact on successive generations who hold the text as sacred knowledge; the text shapes not only how the individual views the past, but influences how they imagine the present.

After Israel was founded, the ancient animosity was easily rekindled. The Zionist preached that Israel, the chosen land, reached from the Tigris to the Euphrates; land that would include much of Iraq, and Babylon itself, rebuilt by Saddam Hussein shortly after he took power in 1979. The creation of an Israeli state with a manifest destiny was aggressively opposed by Arab nations: Egypt, Syria, Transjordan (later Jordan), Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia invaded Israel in 1948. Subsequently Iraq, either directly or indirectly, engaged in military conflict with Israel during the Six-Days War (1967), the Yom Kippur (Ramadan) War (1973) and the Persian Gulf War (1991). Fearing Iraq's nuclear capabilities, Israel launched the Osirak Raid (1981).

The continued unrest in the Middle East, combined with the alleged atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein -- genocide against the Kurds and mass execution of Shiites -- helped both Bush administrations create an image of a second "Hitler:" the atrocities of Hitler were transferred to Hussein and that image was adopted by the mainstream media. For example, in April 2003 Time Magazine reproduced a May 1945 cover of Hitler with a red X over his face, this time the red X crossed out Hussein. (1)

George Bush Sr., before Desert Storm, claimed Hussein was "worse than Adolph Hitler." Soon, magazine covers depicting Saddam as Hitler began to appear in the major news media that acted as conduits of the administration's propaganda campaign. Depicting Hussein as Hitler would help both Bush administrations justify their respective Gulf Wars to ensure and control the continued flow of oil from the Middle East.

Because of past conflicts and fears created by this propaganda, Saddam Hussein's regime was blamed for "de-stabilizing" the region, and considered a threat to the United States' national interests by the G.W. Bush administration. Though one might justify a war to liberate Kuwait, invading Iraq to secure economic interest would never be accepted by the international community. Most of the world saw through the propaganda and rhetoric employed by the administration. The United Nations would not support an invasion of Iraq on the grounds that Hussein still held weapons of mass destruction, simply because their own inspection team (headed by American Scott Ritter) declared emphatically that 90% of all weapons of mass destruction had been found, and that Hussein's ability to produce more weapons had been dismantled; furthermore, Hussein did not have long-range capability to deliver these payloads to Israel and the U.S. as the Bush administration claimed. During a Press Conference with President Musharraf of Pakistan, Mr. Bush declared:

And I think that statement was clear enough for Iraq to hear me. And I will reserve whatever options I have, I'll keep them close to my vest. President -- or Saddam Hussein needs to understand I'm serious about defending our country. (February 13, 2002)

To sway his own people in the face of this contradictory evidence, George W. Bush relied on religious propaganda. He defined Hussein as evil and Iraq itself "an axis of evil." During his speech at the Virginia Military Institute on April 17, 2001, Mr. Bush made these claims:

And, finally, the civilized world faces a grave threat from weapons of mass destruction. A small number of outlaw regimes today possess and are developing chemical and biological and nuclear weapons. They're building missiles to deliver them, and at the same time cultivating ties to terrorist groups. In their threat to peace, in their mad ambitions, in their destructive potential and in the repression of their own people, these regimes constitute an axis of evil and the world must confront them.

Declaring Iraq created a religious context for any future conflict, setting up an epic struggle between the forces of good and evil, Mr. Bush called upon his god over and over again to help America in its struggle against terrorism to which Bush had linked Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration claimed that Hussein sponsored the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Towers and claimed Hussein had direct links to al Qaeda.

Mr. Bush also declared that Hussein was a direct threat to the safety of the U.S., and by implication the American people. Speech after speech it would appear to uninformed Americans that Hussein planned to launch nuclear weapons against Americans. He made this claim in New Jersey on September 23, 2002:

But I also told them that if they would not act, if they would not deal with this true threat we face in America, if they would not recognize that America is no longer protected by oceans and that this man is the man who would use weapons of mass destruction at the drop of a hat, a man who would be willing to team up with terrorist organizations with weapons of mass destruction to threaten America and our allies, if they wouldn't act, the United States will -- we will not allow the world's worst leaders to threaten us with the world's worst weapons.

Having never proven that the Iraqi regime had developed nuclear capability, nor had the current ability to develop atomic weapons, Mr. Bush still exhorted Americans to support his case against Saddam Hussein by offering this half-truth during a speech in Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 7, 2002: "We agree that the Iraqi dictator must not be permitted to threaten America and the world with horrible poisons and diseases and gases and atomic weapons."

Given the fact that Israel reacted swiftly in 1981 to destroy Iraq's nuclear program, and given Israel's superior intelligence agency, one must conclude that Mr. Bush's claims were lies created by the administration to instill fear in the American populace. Israel certainly would have destroyed, if it existed, any current nuclear program without ever having consulted the Bush administration.

Even the claims that Hussein used poison gas against his own people, killing 5,000 Kurds in a 1988 chemical weapons attack on Halabja, is now being questioned. According to a January 31, 2003 New York Times article by Stephen C. Pelletiere, CIA senior political analyst on Iraq during the 1980s,

Iraq used chemical weapons to try to kill Iranians who had seized the town. . . . The Kurdish civilians who died had the misfortune to be caught up in that exchange. But they were not Iraq's main target. . . . The condition of the dead Kurds' bodies however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent -- that is, a cyanide-based gas -- which Iran was known to use. The Iraqis, who are thought to have used mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents at the time.

Moreover, Pelletiere noted that a US Defense Intelligence Agency classified report concluded that the Iranian gas killed the Kurds. Yet, time and again Mr. Bush claimed that Hussein had used poison gas upon his own people, and this past atrocity was "proof" he threatened the lives of Americans.

In his "Axis of Evil" Speech, Mr. Bush employed graphic imagery to drive his point home:

This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world. (State of the Union Address, January 29, 2002.)

Again, he employed a half-truth in order to advance his cause. In truth the Kurds of Halabja died from a gas attack, but to claim that Hussein purposefully gassed them seems doubtful. However, Mr. Bush effectively used this incident to instill fear in the American population in preparation for his "pre-emptive" strike against the supposed member of the "axis of evil."

However, Scott Ritter declared emphatically that Iraq "did co-operate to a very significant degree with the UN inspection process" and, "The truth of the matter is that Iraq today is not a threat to its neighbours and is not acting in a manner which threatens anyone outside its own borders." (BBC, Profile: Scott Ritter, September 9, 2002.) Furthermore, Ritter emphasized:

I believe the primary problem at this point is one of accounting. Iraq has destroyed 90 to 95% of its weapons of mass destruction. Okay. We have to remember that this missing 5 to 10% doesn't necessarily constitute a threat. It doesn't even constitute a weapons programme. It constitutes bits and pieces of a weapons programme which, in its totality, doesn't amount to much, but which is still prohibited. Likewise, just because we can't account for it, doesn't mean Iraq retains it. There is no evidence that Iraq retains this material. That is the quandary we are in. We can't give Iraq a clean bill of health, therefore we can't close the book on its weapons of mass destruction. But simultaneously we can't reasonably talk about Iraqi non-compliance as representing a de facto retention of a prohibited capability worthy of war. (War on Iraq, by Scott Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, Profile Books, London, 2002.)

Yet, in speech after speech, Mr. Bush created a smokescreen for his invasion by calling for further inspections, to allow Hussein to disarm peacefully. In a November 20, 2002 Press Conference he noted:

We did talk about Iraq. There is universal recognition that Saddam Hussein is a threat to world peace. There's clear understanding that he must disarm in the name of peace. We hope he chooses to do so. Tomorrow we'll discuss the issue. We'll consider what happens if he chooses not to disarm. But one thing is certain; he'll be disarmed, one way or the other, in the name of peace.

Clearly, Mr. Bush and his National Security Adviser must have known about Ritter's report and his continued testimony and opposition to an invasion. If so, then, why the continued declaration that Hussein still had chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons with which he could threaten the lives of Americans?

Final support of the Bush administration's false claims of Iraq's capabilities was released in January 2004 by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that concluded the following: "No convincing evidence that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear programme," "There was no evidence to support the claim that Iraq would have transferred WMD to al Qaeda and much evidence to counter it," and that "Administration officials systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq's WMD and ballistic missile programmes." (BBC, January 8, 2004.) Such misrepresentation of Iraq's capabilities, however, was an effective propaganda tool for the administration, convincing a majority of American citizens to support "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

That term itself, Iraqi Freedom, represented a glittering generality, which Mr. Bush defined simply as "freedom" from a repressive regime. Truly the Shiites were not allowed to fully practice their religion, the Kurds did not enjoy full participation in government, and the Ba'ath party dominated the economic and political sphere in Iraq; however, the current administration has tolerated and still tolerates other "repressive regimes" in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, past administrations have supported repressive regimes in South America. Most contradictory has been the American support for the repression of Palestinians in Israel. If the Bush administration were really concerned with "freedom," then should not Palestine be a top priority?

Such terms as "freedom" and "liberation" helped the Bush administration portray itself as the champion of the oppressed. Mr. Bush portrayed himself as a reasonable man to the American people, a patient and peaceful man who would try to avoid a violent confrontation if at all possible. In the epic battle against "evil," Mr. Bush defined himself as the champion of the "good." However, his intention never was to allow Hussein to disarm peacefully, but to invade Iraq to help stabilize the region; in other words, to ensure the economic interests of the United States and its allies. Mr. Bush made this point clear:

In all these efforts, however, America's purpose is more than to follow a process -- it is to achieve a result: the end of terrible threats to the civilized world. All free nations have a stake in preventing sudden and catastrophic attacks. And we're asking them to join us, and many are doing so. Yet the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others. Whatever action is required, whenever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people. (State of the Union Address, January 28, 2002.)

The xenophobia caused by defining Iraq/Babylon as an evil menace that threatened Americans with biological, chemical and nuclear weapons gave George W. Bush an unprecedented popularity after 9/11.

Evidence that the Bush administration orchestrated the invasion by disseminating false information has been offered by numerous sources. According to Mother Jones reporters Robert Dreyfus and Jason Vest, the Bush administration set up a secret intelligence agency which would become the "nucleus of the Defense Department's misinformation campaign" whose sole purpose was to create the justification for an invasion of Iraq. Dreyfus and Vest note that "one day after Bush took the oath of office...the issue of invading Iraq was raised." Even before 9/11, the administration began to implement a plan developed by the Project for a New American Century, whose primary mission was to solve "the problem" in the Middle East by forcing a regime change in Iraq. To disseminate the false intelligence, the administration created the Office of Special Plans (OSP) within the Near East and South Asian Affairs (NESA) to be run by Abram Shulksy under the supervision of Department Undersecretary of Defense William Luti, the director of the NESA. Those who disagreed with the anti-Iraq propaganda created by the OSP were purged from key intelligence positions according to Lt. Colonel Kwiatkowski. Kwiatkowski and others testified that "Staff workers for Luti and Shulksy in NESA/OSP churned out propaganda-style intelligence" (39-40).

Perhaps the most damning evidence comes from Colonel Sam Gardiner (USAF, Ret.) who identified 50 false news stories created by the OSP: in other words, America's first Ministry of Propaganda. According to Gardiner's 56-page report entitled "Truth from These Podia: Summary of a Study of Strategic Influence, Perception Management, Strategic Information Warfare and Strategic Psychological Operations in Gulf II," "the administration in Washington and London did not trust the peoples of their democracies to come to the right decisions." Consequently, Gardiner explains, "Truth became a casualty. When truth is a casualty, democracy receives collateral damage." For the first time in US history, "we allowed strategic psychological operations to become part of public affairs. . . . [W]hat has happened is that information warfare, strategic influence, [and] strategic psychological operations pushed their way into the important process of informing the peoples of our two democracies."

Each of the 50 false stories received extensive coverage by the major news media, a media that acted not as objective, investigative organizations, but as mouthpieces for this propaganda organization. Rather than question the false stories, ABC, NBC, CBS and the major newspaper chains simply accepted them as facts. Among the stories created by the America Ministry of Propaganda were:

The link between terrorism, Iraq and 9/11.
Iraq's possession of chemical and biological weapons.
Iraq's purchase of nuclear materials from Niger.
Saddam Hussein's development of nuclear weapons.
The existence of Iraqi drones, WMD cluster bombs and Scud missiles.
The rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch.
The surrender of a 5,000-man Iraqi brigade.
Iraq executing Coalition POWs.
The exact location of WMD facilities
WMDs moved to Syria.
(Gar Smith, The-Edge, November 7, 2003.)

Reaching millions of Americans, the false information created by Bush's Ministry of Propaganda created a false pretense for invading Iraq. Admittedly, Saddam Hussein was a dictator who did repress Iraqi citizens who opposed his rule. Yet, it appears that an exaggerated image of a second "Hitler" was created by both Bush administrations to justify their respective Gulf Wars, whose main purpose was to ensure the continued flow of oil from the Middle East. The policy of containment through sanctions was effectively limiting Hussein's power; furthermore, with continued pressure from the international community, Hussein may have introduced democratic reforms. Now facing trial for alleged crimes against humanity, Hussein will present a different version of history -- albeit a version that will contain lies and exaggeration also. Yet these facts will be established: That the United States supported Hussein during his war with Iran (providing him with weapons of mass destruction), that George Bush Sr. left Hussein in power to stop the Shiites from creating an Islamic Iraq, and that economic security -- rather than some humanitarian mission to liberate the Iraqi people -- was the primary reason for the invasion and current occupation of Babylon.

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© Gerard Donnelly Smith 2004. All rights reserved. Please DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work on the Web. See our reprint policy.

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Other Essays in this Special Issue

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Or jump to any one author (in alphabetical order): Tanweer Akram || Justin Alexander || Anthony Arnove || Naseer Aruri || Jan Baughman || George Capaccio || Milo Clark || Gregory Elich || Sara Flounders & John Catalinotto || Manuel García || Denis J. Halliday || Edward S. Herman || Rania Masri || Thomas J. Nagy, et al. || Michael Parenti || Louis Proyect || John Sloboda || Gerard Donnelly Smith || Michael W. Stowell



Iraq on Swans (all articles regarding Iraq published on Swans)

Outside Resources on Iraq (Web sites of interest)

Additional Resources (compiled by Tanweer Akram)

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1.  See, http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101030421/x/ (last visited, January 29, 2004). [Ed. Gerard Donnelly Smith asked to insert a small 100x131 thumbnail of the April 21, 2003 Time's cover. In spite of four e-mail exchanges with Ms. Grace Anderson-Smith of 'TIME Reprints and Permissions,' a phone call and two e-mails to Account Executive Rona Tuccillo (Ph.# 646-613-3721) of 'Getty Images,' we were unable to secure the necessary permission.]  (back)

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Published February 2, 2004