DOHA, QATARAs the first bombs crashed down on Saddam Hussein's capital city shortly before dawn Thursday, an unusual message aired on Baghdad radio. "This is the day we have been waiting for," a speaker in Arabic declared. "The attack on Iraq has begun."
In an audacious escalation of the information war, U.S. Commando Solo EC-130E planes apparently "drowned out" Iraqi state radio and replaced it with an American broadcast, says Nick Grace, editor of ClandestineRadio.com, a Web site that monitors opposition radio stations. The Iraqis eventually changed frequency and restored programming three hours later, but the jamming demonstrated the importance the Pentagon is placing on psychological operations.
The radio propaganda represented one component of a concerted campaign to convince both Iraqi civilians and military that resistance is futile. The "psyops" effort has also included trying to turn Iraqi military leaders with targeted E-mail and even cellphone messages; driving the imposing 7th Cavalry deep into Iraq with television correspondents present; and blanketing the country with 21 million leaflets on Saddam's past transgressions and blunt advice to give up the fight or die.
While some of the dollar-size pamphlets urged Iraqis to tune in U.S. radio broadcasts and to avoid unleashing chemical and biological weapons, their major focus was to provide Iraqi soldiers directions for surrendering. "Park vehicles in squares," the leaflets say, with white flags on top and artillery and air defense systems exposed.
American military planners hope to repeat the experience of the first Gulf War, when 87,000 Iraqi troops surrendered"most of them clutching the leaflets or hiding them in their clothing," says Ed Rouse, a retired U.S. Army psyops expert. By week's end, hundreds of Iraqi troops had surrendered, but it was too early to know whether thousands more would fold or fight.
Some of the leaflets tell Iraqis to tune in to the U.S.-run "Information Radio." The Commando Solo crews, when they are not jamming Iraqi broadcasts, try to offer Information Radio as an alternative on competing frequencies. Information Radio mimics the format offered by Iraq's Voice of the Youth, a radio station run by Saddam's elder son, Uday. The Americans mix 1980s pop hits with traditional Arabic music and news reports. "In a very commercial sense, we're competing for the same market share," says U.S. Marine Maj. Pete Mitchell, a CentCom spokesman. But this isn't about entertainment. "We're trying to prevent needless loss of life, needless casualties," Mitchell says.
The information war has its limitsand the United States ratcheted up the psychological and physical stress by launching the threatened "shock and awe" air campaign Friday evening. The war of bombs had overtaken the war of words.