Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Iraq Propaganda: The Zarqawi Campaign

Thanks to "Editor and Publisher" for following up on the Thomas Ricks story in Monday's Washington Post about the Pentagon's propaganda campaign to build up the myths and legends about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, not only for the Iraqi audience, but for the "home audience" in the United States.

The Ricks article takes to task Dexter Filkins of The New York Times for his lack of apparent skepticism about the so-called "Zarqawi letter" leaked to him in early 2004. What Ricks did not point out, but "Editor and Publisher" did, was the skepticism that was shown by Newsweek Online:

... A Web search of New York Times articles in the two months after the scoop failed to turn up any articles casting serious doubts on the letter. Two leading writers for Newsweek on its Web site quickly had a different view, however.

Christopher Dickey, the Middle East regional editor, on February 13, 2004, asked: “Given the Bush administration’s record peddling bad intelligence and worse innuendo, you’ve got to wonder if this letter is a total fake. How do we know the text is genuine? How was it obtained? By whom? And when? And how do we know it’s from Zarqawi? We don’t. We’re expected to take the administration’s word for it.”

Rod Nordland, the magazine’s Baghdad bureau chief, on March 6 wrote: “The letter so neatly and comprehensively lays out a blueprint for fomenting strife with the Shia, and later the Kurds, that it's a little hard to believe in it unreservedly. It came originally from Kurdish sources who have a long history of disinformation and dissimulation. It was an electronic document on a CD-ROM, so there's no way to authenticate signature or handwriting, aside from the testimony of those captured with it, about which the authorities have not released much information.”...

Let's be clear about this: Zarqawi is an evil S.O.B., and in the age of information war, it's perfectly legitimate for the United States to focus on that fact and make the point to the Iraqi people that he's a foreigner. (Of course, that sort of misses the point that for the Iraqis, Americans are even more foreign.)

The problem lies with the way the Pentagon and Zarqawi worked together to build his image in Iraq and around the world, beginning in 2003 and peaking in 2004, with Zarqawi's decapitation campaign on the Internet. The focus on the Jordanian and his gang distorted not only the public's view of the Iraqi insurgency, it distorted policy as Washington continued the pattern begun before the war of willful self-delusion.

Also see:

Shadowland: A (Terrorist's) Letter from Iraq.
The so-called Zarqawi Memo may or may not be genuine, but it's a revealing picture of Iraq right now

Shadowland: The Executioner's Song, 20 Oct 2004
With just a small support base, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi used the Web to build himself up into a mythical jihadist. Will he be captured or killed in time to help Bush win re-election?

Cover story: Unmasking the Insurgents, 30 Jan 2005
Shadow war: The elections won't stop the bombers, but quality intel -- and luck -- might help.

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