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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Propaganda Stinkers: Fresh samples from the field

Paul de Rooij • April 2003

“Allies breach Saddam’s ‘red line’!!” read the screaming front-page headline in London’s The Independent on April 1st. The Independent, CNN, and BBC intimated that as soon as US troops would step over this magic line, then the Iraqis would unleash their chemical weapons - finally providing an after-the-fact pretext for this war. However, it was not the Iraqi generals who drew a line in the sand, it was the “play by play analysts”, the retired US generals on CNN, who drew this circle around Baghdad. The “red line” is a propaganda construct.

When the US forces crossed the so-called red line most TV news and print media, especially CNN, were full of references to the risk this entailed. Several authors of articles containing references to the “red line” were contacted and asked how they justified using this terminology. Predictably, most of the journalists in question didn’t reply. However, two unembedded journalists did reply and categorically denied using the “red line” term. In other words, their newspapers in London and New York introduced the “red line” references and elaborated significantly.

What would happen when the troops moved past the “red line”? An American Colonel explained on CNN that they would go to a “level two chemical attack preparedness” -- this must be equivalent to an “orange alert” in the US. What this entailed was wearing the chemical suit without closing it off. However, a few things made one question the legitimacy of this episode. First, a flag was visible in the picture, and thereby anyone’s propaganda alert signals should start flashing. In the same scene, a soldier could be seen in the background walking around in his regular combat fatigues. Furthermore, in the subsequent days when the troops were near Baghdad airport, well within the “red line”, they obviously were not wearing any chemical suits. This is proof that the “red line” was actually a red herring, and it really was meant to remind Americans this war has a justification in the form of combating chemical weapons.

Imagine if the military had believed their own propaganda; this could easily have become the primary cause for casualties. The day the Americans crossed the “red line” it was 41ºC (106F)! By requiring the use of chemical suits the army would risk scoring an own-goal with most soldiers dehydrated in the field. The forced separation of the propagandists from the military commanders is fast emerging as an urgent military requirement. Propaganda contamination could easily become the leading contender for “allied” soldiers’ deaths. It already claimed some victims [1].

Uncomfortable Snippets

The propagandists attempt to feed the insatiable 24-hour newscast monsters. When so many news items must be produced rapidly, then invariably mistakes will occur contradicting the propagandists’ aims. Both BBC and CNN have shown scenes where Saddam’s pictures or statues came to an unceremonious end. These scenes reinforce the message that the “US-UK” have “come to get Saddam”. In one such BBC episode, the soldiers tore down Saddam’s photograph, but then another was shown on top of a hospital removing the Iraqi flag. Hmmm… This conveys a very different message. So, what else do the “US-UK” have in store?

Al Jazeera continued to produce reportage that potentially could embarrass the Americans. This perhaps explains why the hotel where Al Jazeera was staying in Basra was bombed on April 1st, and why their offices in Baghdad were bombed on April 7th killing one cameraman [2]. Al Jazeera journalists have been targeted before [3]. One of the Al Jazeera reports contained some nuggets and raised questions about the hidden player in this war - one whose name CNN or BBC don’t dare to mention, Israel. Al Jazeera showed footage of an unexploded Israeli missile, and elsewhere bits of metal with Hebrew markings. Perhaps it is too much to expect CNN to ask who fired these missiles. (After the 1991 Gulf War, an Israeli Air Force reservist engaging in a bit of R&R skiing in France, boasted to this author: “… if you only knew where I have been.” He barely could hide his glee at the outcome of that war.)

Depleted Uranium (DU Ammo)

Propaganda is as much about what is censored as it is about the projected message. In the case of DU-Ammo and its consequences propaganda aims to hide this from public view. Now, between April 6th and 9th American A-10s were busy over Baghdad spreading DU-Ammo. Similarly, US tanks were firing at will - possibly with DU-Ammo. There is no secret about this, and it is plain to see on CNN - it is the consequences that aren’t discussed. DU-Ammo aerosols are thought to be the cause of the permanently debilitating “Gulf War Syndrome.” Professor Doug Rokke, the US Army physicist responsible for cleaning up Kuwait, has stated that the use of these weapons amounts to “a war crime” [4] - and he wasn’t referring to their use inside a city like Baghdad. We only know about the devastating effects of this weapon from the fact that 36% US Gulf War veterans sought disability benefits, and 6% were diagnosed with the debilitating syndrome. Now, the DU aerosols will spread over a city of six million people, and of course US troops [5].

Some key questions emerge about DU Ammo, questions that any free press should ask. Are US-UK soldiers going to be exposed to more DU-aerosol than during the Gulf War? How about the Iraqi population? Is Baghdad going to be rendered uninhabitable? No statistics are available on the number of deformed children born to the Gulf War veterans - perhaps this time they will keep a better tally. Hospital wards in Basra, the city most affected by DU aerosols in 1991, contain the prospect for many Iraqis, i.e., many deformed new-born and still-born infants.

Terrorism is back!

During a recent president’s press conference, the ugly word terrorism reappeared. The reference pertained to guerrilla actions against the US Marines. The next day a general repeated the claim, but stated that the attack had the “look and feel of terrorism.” Oh, the public needs to be reminded that this war has something to do with terrorism! However, to lend to the CNN theatrics, what is really needed is the Israeli pronunciation of this word. Shimon Peres’ gargled pronunciation is the best and perhaps he should offer some instruction; repeat after him: “Terrrrrrorrrrizm”.

The increasing references to terrorism also suggest what to expect in the coming days after the Americans claim victory. Just as there was no official declaration of war, we shouldn’t expect a formal ending to this war either; there will be no official surrender ceremony. Maybe this would be too grotesque if Saddam is hanging from a lamppost, or if the US plans to kill many members of the vanquished government. It is also likely that reaction against Americans will continue indefinitely from “pockets of resistance”, and it is more than likely that this will be classed as terrorism. However, violence against an occupier or an invading military force is NOT terrorism, and the US is definitely not in a position to define what is legitimate violence. It is also absurd for it to draw lines in the sand and expect violence to be contained by them. Perhaps Americans should consider that the shockwaves of bombs don’t necessarily stop at national borders. Iraqis whose nation has been demolished by the US may have an understandable wish to seek revenge - and New York or London may be the targets of choice. Has this war done anything to reduce this threat?

Questions any free press would ask in the coming weeks

Iraqi oil exports are due to restart very soon. What will happen to the oil revenues?

What will happen to the Iraqi trade with Jordan and Syria? Iraq was a major trading partner of these countries. So, will the US extract onerous concessions before reestablishing trade? How many months will it be before the Basra-Haifa(Israel) pipeline starts flowing again? What will happen to the Kirkuk-Baniyas pipeline, which the US alleged was used to “smuggle” Iraqi oil through Syria in contravention of UN sanctions? Will Syria be punished with this oil being redirected to Haifa?

The Israeli press and AIPAC gloat over the Iraqi opposition leaders visiting AIPAC offices - none other than Kanan Makiya has shown up. Do AIPAC or the neocons have veto power over appointees? (see: Nathan Guttman’s “AIPAC and the Iraqi opposition”, Ha’aretz, April 8, 2003)

Will Iraq reemerge as an independent country or will it be torn asunder? The Kurds have been led to believe that they can expect something in the North. Why are British forces tearing down Iraqi flags?

[1] Some of US soldiers caught in an ambush stated that their officers had told them to expect no resistance! The only way such a misconception was spread was because the military believed their own propaganda.
[2] Brian Whitaker, “Speculation mounts over Saddam's fate”, The Guardian, April 8, 2003
[3] Jason Deans, “Al-Jazeera's Basra hotel bombed”, The Guardian, April 2, 2003
[4] Neil Mackay, “US Forces’ Use of Depleted Uranium Weapons is 'Illegal’ ”, Sunday Herald, March 30, 2003.
[5] Until recently the population of Baghdad hovered around five million. According to a recent report, the flight from the smaller villages has increased the city’s population significantly.


This article is a follow up to:
Arrogant Propaganda
And the Glossary of Warmongering
Paul de Rooij is an economist living in London, and can be reached at (NB: attachments will be deleted automatically.)


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Index: Current Articles

27 April 2003


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Propaganda Stinkers

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