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[] USAT 30.03.04 Rumors Are A Bombardment That Never Stops,

Ein 50 Mann starkes "Grüchte-Kontroll Team"....

USA Today
March 30, 2004
Pg. 8

Rumors Are A Bombardment That Never Stops

Coalition team fighting a war of information

By Tom Squitieri, USA Today

BAGHDAD ? Minutes after suicide bombers attacked Shiite Muslim pilgrims
in Baghdad and Karbala this month, rumors that U.S. forces were
responsible for the attacks swept through this city.

U.S. officials were taken aback. They had been careful to respect the
sensitivities of the religious faithful by not sending troops too close
to Shiite shrines, and they had offered resources to the Iraqi police to
help defend against attacks.

But they failed to take into account the rapidly adaptable and
sophisticated propaganda abilities of the anti-U.S. insurgency

Fighting the information war on the streets and in the bazaars of Iraq's
cities and villages is proving as tough as combating the elusive
fighters who attack soldiers. In November, the coalition set up a
50-member rumor-control team in recognition of the importance of the
information war. The team monitors rumors on the streets and in cafes,
what's published in countless Iraqi newspapers and what appears on

Coalition officials worry about the spread of misinformation or outright
propaganda because it can lead to violence and undermine efforts to
stabilize Iraq. This week, a Baghdad newspaper run by followers of
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was shut down after coalition officials
said the publication incited violence against the U.S.-led force
occupying Iraq. Military officials say the newspaper, Al-Hawza, called
on readers to take up arms against U.S. forces.

"It's one thing to call us pigs," one coalition official says. "But when
you call on people to take up a rifle or take up a knife to slit the
throat of the American pigs, that crosses the line. If we let this go on
unchecked, people will die."

Word of mouth has always been a powerful force in the Middle East, and
influencing what is known as the "Arab street" is crucial to winning the
rumor and propaganda war, U.S. officials say. Some rumors are planted by
insurgents; others are more innocent urban legends.

"These things spread like wildfire, and they can take us by surprise,"
says Col. Jill Morgenthaler, a member of the rumor-control team. "Their
initial instincts are to blame Americans."

That comes easy to a generation raised on Saddam Hussein's warnings that
Americans were evil. Iraqis never had an independent news media. News
was what you heard from neighbors or in smoky cafes while sipping tea
with friends. Under Saddam, neighbors were considered more reliable than

The Baghdad-based rumor-control team has two offices. The more public
face is in the convention center and consists of mostly military
personnel and a few civilians. Less public is the
psychological-operations part of the team, which is housed in Saddam's
official palace, where top coalition officials also have their offices.
In both offices, rows of desks are covered with newspapers, transcripts,
empty soft-drink cans, maps and reports.

Every morning at 8:45, the rumor-control team meets to review
intelligence reports and daily digests of the articles in the dozens of
newspapers that have sprouted since Saddam's fall. Team members scan a
daily tip sheet of rumors from the street, compiled by Iraqi staffers
and U.S. and British intelligence officials.

The rumors vary. After a bombing, bystanders will often wave chunks of
metal and claim that they are shrapnel from U.S. grenades responsible
for the attack. Coalition officials have also picked up rumors that toys
passed out by U.S. soldiers trigger deadly diseases in children.

Other rumors officials are combating:

*Saddam is in a Colorado ski resort.

*Israel is behind the invasion of Iraq.

*The United States is holding back on electricity distribution to punish

*The night-vision goggles used by U.S. soldiers lets them see through
the clothing of Iraqi women.

"We chase a lot of things," Morgenthaler says.

Sometimes stopping a rumor is fairly easy. One rumor that gained
currency in early March was that coalition forces were deliberately
triggering explosions of captured weapons and bombs at different times
of the day and night in order to keep Iraqis scared and on edge. In
response, the coalition shifted the explosions to a regular schedule and
began to announce the blasts in advance. The rumor slowly subsided.

Others are more difficult to overcome. The rumor about poisoned toys,
which originated last summer, took months to be beaten down, although it
still persists in some rural areas where contact with troops is limited,
U.S. officials say.

Coalition officials hope an independent media will replace word of mouth
as the main source of information. Dozens of newspapers emerged after
Saddam's regime collapsed, but their reliability varies, and many are
associated with political parties. Rumor-control team members are
training Iraqi journalists in an effort to help develop an independent

The officials say they are making progress in combating rumors. They
point to polls taken by the coalition showing that 85% of Iraqis know
and understand that sovereignty will be returned to them on June 30.
They did not disclose how many people were polled or the margin of

Olivier Minkwitz___________________________________________
HSFK Hessische Stiftung für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
PRIF Peace Research Institute Frankfurt
Leimenrode 29 60322 Frankfurt a/M Germany
Tel +49 (0)69 9591 0422  Fax +49 (0)69 5584 81                         pgpKey:0xAD48A592
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