US pushes PR for war with Iraq

By ELI J. LAKE, UPI State Department Correspondent  |  Aug. 20, 2002 at 5:31 PM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- The United States, faced with a survey by diplomats showing widespread foreign skepticism about their motives, is planning a public relations offensive to build international support among foreign opinion leaders for a war against Iraq.

The Iraq Public Diplomacy Group, a U.S. interagency task force, will be launching a widespread public relations campaign this fall, targeting newspaper editors and foreign policy think tank analysts in Western Europe and the Middle East.

The task force, which includes representatives from the CIA, National Security Council, Pentagon, State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, plans to publish a brochure documenting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's ability to threaten Iraqis and other peoples in the region.

One U.S. official familiar with the group's planning told United Press International Tuesday that the booklet would "document and chronicle Saddam's transgressions against international norms." These include the Iraqi leader's use of mustard and nerve gas against Kurds in Northern Iraq in 1988 in the town of Halabja, as well as new information compiled from refugees fleeing the country on the state of Iraq's prisons.

Last fall, the State Department released a similar brochure cataloguing the crimes of Osama bin Laden.

Other plans include establishing interactive teleconferences between high-ranking U.S. officials and foreign newspaper editors and think tank analysts, which one State Department official called "opinion leaders."

The campaign in many ways is a reaction to mounting skepticism in European and Middle Eastern capitals about the prudence of a campaign to topple Saddam's government.

According to an analysis of foreign media conducted between March 15 and Aug. 15 by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, "little sympathy could be found in Arab or Muslim papers for a military campaign." The report goes on to say, "A common theme was that the campaign against Iraq was simply a way to gain control of Iraqi oil, help the U.S. economy and boost the president's popularity."

The survey released internally on Monday also notes that a full 68 percent of newspaper editorials in NATO countries and Australia analyzed oppose military action against Iraq. In the analysis of Western European editorials, the report says, "Many sources worried that a military campaign to oust Hussein would trigger a storm of indignation in the Middle East."

Other editorials in the survey opposed military action because of doubts about a link between Osama bin Laden's al Qaida organization and Iraq. Another argument broached in many of the editorials is that U.S. actions against Iraq may be in violation of the U.N. charter.

Under the Bush doctrine, the United States would reserve the right of a pre-emptive strike against countries that harbor international terrorists and seek weapons of mass destruction. Leading hawks close to the administration, such as Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle, argue that the doctrine of pre-emption is justified as self-defense after the attacks of Sept. 11.

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research's Media Reaction Branch analyzed 211 editorials and op-ed pieces from 163 overseas media in 56 countries, submitted by U.S. embassies and consulates overseas. While the survey examined editorials from a number of countries throughout the world, the majority of the material came from NATO allies and the Middle East.

The Iraq Public Diplomacy Group was formed under former President Clinton to counter Saddam Hussein's public relations campaign against the U.N. sanctions regime.

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