AN APPRAISAL OF GULF WAR PROPAGANDA
By R.G. Auckland
With the end of the Gulf War over a year since, it had been hoped that more information than was already known about psychological warfare operations might be revealed by the Pentagon or perhaps an authoritative organisation other than the Americans. Although no such revelations have been forthcoming, it is posssible by culling newspaper reports, magazine articles and eye-witness acconts to reconstruct a general account of how the propaganda action took place and progressed.
Economic sanctions against Iraq were imposed on August 6, 1990, by the United Nations and it was on this date that two or more PSYOPS (Psychological Warfare Operations) Battalions of the US Army were actively commissioned for wartime duty. Propaganda teams at Fort Bragg, NC, USA, specialising in the Middle East were instructed to compose suitable leaflets of a strategic kind, which would include Safe Conduct Passes with both coercive and threatening texts. To compose such anti-Iraq literature in Arabic necessitated a great deal of urgent co-operation with the Kuwaitis-in-exile and Saudi Arabia in situ, the host country of the Coalition Forces. It was absolutely necessary to ensure that any texts intending to be used did not offend Arab culture or in any manner detract from the determination of the Arab and other members of the Coalition to carry out the declared wishes of the United Nations with regard to the invasion, occupation and retaking of Kuwait.
For ths reason some PSYOPS team members were sent to Ridayh, capital of Saudi Arabia, where consultations took place and agreement was that PSYOPS would design and text the leaflets which would then be printed locally if the US Army could not find the full necessry resources to print the propaganda literature themselves. This also applied to Turkey.
Three secret directives involving propaganda against Iraq were signed by President Bush for and on behalf of the main protagonists, including the Kuwait resistance body. The composition and text of tactical leaflets decided on by the US/Saudi teams would be used later when hostilities actually began and the Iraq Order of Battle became known.
As time went by it became quite evident that economic sanctions would inevitably turn into military activity. The agreements and preparation of proposed tracts for Iraq, mainly between America and Saudi Arabia, took several weeks. It was not until the tenth day of January that the world new of the Coalition's first propaganda action against Iraq.
A press release by the American military revealed that a US PSYOPS unit had ballooned propaganda leaflets into Kuwait from just inside the Saudi border. Allied planes could not , it was said, or more likely were not allowed to, fly any kind of mission over Kuwait. This restrictive order was soon rescinded however.
It was originally said that 12,000 leaflets were floated into Kuwait, but long after the war a figure of 1,027,620 was quoted. But both reports agree that the leaftets were dropped over southern Kuwait instructing enemy soldieers how to surrender. Such a small number of 12,000 leaflets would be, if true, merely a token and symbolic operation. The operation having been completed - and against prevailing winds of northeast to southwest in this part of the world at his time of year - the world could be honestly informed that agressive psychological warfare operations against Iraq had started.
Within days of using balloons as a means to deliver leaflets, Operation Desert Storm - the military action againsr the Iraqi nation - had begun on January 16 when the first cruise missiles were launched in the Gulf.
At the same time the US Airforce began using its planes and helicopters to shower enemy military groupments in Kuwait and Iraq with a variety of surrender passes. Up to four millions of these had been disseminated towards the end of January and a few days later some fourteen millions of all types had been disseminated from a variety of American aircraft. In all, almost 30 million leaflets of all kinds are now officially said to have been printed and eventually disseminated during the short war.
Facsimile 25-dinar banknote
Anti-Saddam caricature on reverse of banknote
"I have carried you for 11 years. I have no strength to carry you any more."
Sign reads 'KUWAIT'
There were eight or nine basic types of Surrender Passes, one of which was a facsimile 25-dinar banknote in its origninal colour. It was used to attract the attention of Irai soldiers as it fell to the ground. On the back of each banknote was a message informing the soldier either how to surrender, his treatment as a prisoner-of-war, an anti-Saddam caricature or information that the Iraqi currency was already debased. The banknotes are believed to have been printed in Turkey. Another Safe Conduct, dubbed an 'Invitation Card' by the world's press, was so called because of the flowery language used to 'invite' the enemy to surrender. Some of these were printed on card as well as paper.
At the same time as being offered the opportunity to surrender to the Coalition Forces, the Iraqi soldiers were being showered with leaflets threatening them with the dire result of being heavily bombed if they did not shift position. The soldiers were intimidated by one leaflet which had the outline of an aerial bomb and the message "This is a demonstration. It could have been a real bomb ... &c." But one of these 'outline bomb' types, in red, represents the BLU-82 aerial bomb, the size of a VW "Beetle" car and weighing seven tons. It was dropped in front of fixed Iraqi defensive positions in the US Marines' sector south of Kuwait in order to detonate enemy mines. Nicknamed the "Daisy Cutter", it spread devastation far and wide and was referred to in the leaflet's text as the "most destrucive conventional bomb of the war, having more power than 20 Scud missiles."
Another basic type of pamphlet advised enemy military personnel to abandon their equipment and leave their present position. This theme was later extended to specific enemy units, viz., 16th, 20th and 28th Divisions, who were warned that they would be bombed the next day - and were bombed. The bombers then returned again and dropped further warnings that more heavy bombing would take place if the soldiers remained where they were. The picture used on these 'threateners' was a B52 dropping its bombs during a Vietnam mission.
A third basic type has all the 27 flags of the combatants in colour with a Seal in the centre with the title "JOINT FORCES." There are eight various messages on the reverse ranging from a Safe Conduct Pass to the threatening power of the Mult-national Forces.
Other than these fundamental categories there were many examples of propaganda. This was of the essence of 'Run or be bombed - and leave your equipment where it is.' They were, of course, variants on themes used on WWII propaganda leaflets, but with a sense of urgency about the text involving much more destruction possible than in those war years. Prior to the actual break-out of fighting there were several leaflets pointing out that January 15 D-Day was Danger Day. He was advised to get well away from his position or camp before this date otherwise he had no hope of living or, as another tract suggested, be horribly wounded or disfigured. It is a fact that many Iraqi soldiers did indeed heed the warning and not fight to the death. But it was probably the physical terror of carpet bombing which made tham desert rather than what was on any leaflets. Yet another pamphlet at this time told the Iraqi soldier that all that was wanted was 'Peace with my Arab brother.'
It was not only from Saudi Arabia south of Iraq territory that US planes bombarded Iraqi military postitions with flying sheets of paper, but from the north also. Turkey borders Iraq's northern frontier and it was from this country that Coalition planes also paper-raided Saddam's homeland. The airbase at Incirlik was tenanted by a wing of F-16 fighter planes. Eight kinds of leaflets were delivered to this base between February 13 and 27. If records are true, this squadron delivered about 12.5% of all leaflets disseminated during Gulf War.
The towns and cities of Iraq were also bombed at the same time as the troops in the front line, but, so far as is known, no fliers were disseminated to the civilians. After the air strike which killed nearly 300 people in a bunker at Baghdad, it was deliberated by the US Central Command at Ridayh whether or not civilians should be pre-warned of heavy bomb attacks. A committee considered the matter but the idea was apparently lost in a welter of other committee matters because nothing ever came of it. For a further two weeks towns and cities were bombed without warning until the end of the war on February 28.
On the technical side, at least three types of aircraft are known to have helped to disseminate the millions of propaganda leaflets used, as well as helicopters. The aircraft were the F-16 fighter, the C-130 Hercules cargo and general purposes plane and a variant of it, the MC-130 Combat Talon plane.
Safe Conduct Pass
Two leaflet bombs have so far been identified. One is the M-129 which contians 54,000 rolled leaflets, and the other is the M-129E1. The M-129E1 is a fibre-glass bomb and is standard make for the US Airforce and was not specifically designed for the Gulf War. It carries 30,000 standard 13.3x20.3cm (approx. 12"x5") machine rolled leaflets. As the leaflets used in the Gulf were smaller, so more leaflets were carried per mission. A comment should be made here that the standard size mentioned above seems rather large for a propaganda leaflet. The size of 8"x5" has been the most common and acceptable size up to now.
According to Western reports in the field, the Allied aerial leaflets were very much welcomed by Iraqi soldiers and eagerly sought after. Desertions began almost as soon as the West became involved after the occupation of Kuwait City. These greatly increased once the heavy bombing started. Surrender Passes were carried by nearly all those surrendering without fighting, or were surrounded and captured. Pictures were taken by photo-journalists of Iraqi soldiers waving or holding Safe Conduct pieces of paper. All this was very nostalgic of WWII scenes, but one BBC reporter probably went over the top when he said that such leaflets were bought and sold and, in some cases, used as a form of currency. This certainly did happen in 1943-45 in North Africa and Europe, but an exact similar situation did not obtain in the Gulf in 1991.
There has been no further mention of the "millions of postcards" of satellite pictures of devastated towns and cities of Iraq which were dropped on Iraqi positions. This information can be considered as pure propaganda invented by a London tabloid.
The Falling Leaf. No. 136. Autumn 1992.
The Psywar Society has published the following catalogue, compiled by R.G.Auckland:
Aerial Propaganda Leaflets Produced By The United Nations Joint Forces For Operation 'Desert Storm' Persian Gulf 1991
The catalogue (Blatter No. 20) is fully illustrated and includes translations, plus leaflets prepared by Iraq for use against the U.N. Joint Forces.
Return to Falling Leaf Selected Articles
©1992 PsyWar Society