Predictable Propaganda:

Four Months of US Occupation of Iraq

by Paul de Rooij

Dissident Voice

September 3, 2003


In a low monotonous voice, the BBC’s terrorism expert stated that “foreign terrorists” were streaming into Iraq. [1]  This is very likely another fabricated story, created to justify naming the resistance against the US occupation of Iraq as “terrorism”.  Furthermore, the death toll is increasing gradually, and the lies about that are increasing apace.  The body bag chart tells its own story.  We are witnessing an escalation of propaganda designed to divert attention from increasingly grim events occurring in Iraq.


Old Chestnuts


The latest propaganda emanating from both the Pentagon and the US media is that there is an increasing presence of foreign terrorists in Iraq.  Analysts study the residues of the bomb used against, say, the UN building and establish the size, type and provenance of the bomb.  They also claim some of these bombs were planted by foreign terrorists – because “the bombs are too sophisticated…”  On the face of it, this is a very unlikely explanation at such an early stage of the investigation of any of the latest bombings.


To understand why these propaganda elements should appear, it helps to examine some historical precedents.  At the height of the military repression in Brazil during the early 1970s, General Garastazu Medici stated that there were “foreign influences” among the Leftist groups opposing the military dictatorship.  After all, if Brazilian opponents of the military were being killed or tortured then some uncomfortable questions would arise.  However, if opponents were mere “foreign terrorists” or “communists” then the repression wouldn’t generate any bad press, and torturing political opponents was deemed acceptable.  In the 1960s, the Americans also engaged in this type of accusation in Vietnam where “outside forces” were upsetting their tea party.  North Vietnamese fighters or local guerrillas were considered foreign interference; the fact that the US was a massive outside influence was, of course, beyond discussion.  In light of these earlier examples, one may be justifiably skeptical of the current claims of “foreign terrorists” entering Iraq.


The use of “foreign terrorists” is taking over from the claims of “foreign communists” of yesteryear.  It is a splendid accusation because it reminds Americans that the US is still fighting the “war on terror” -- the false rationale for the war.  It is easy to see how Americans could go sour on the occupation of Iraq, but it is more difficult for them to reject “the war on terror.”  One should expect a marked increase in the “war on terror” refrain, or its corollary: “foreign terrorists entering Iraq.” [2]


Another reason why “foreign terrorists” is an unlikely reality is that although Iraq’s borders are long, they are easily controlled because the roads through the deserts are limited, and the states surrounding Iraq cannot be seen as aiding and abetting the guerrilla war.  Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey are either opposed to any resistance group in the area, or simply cannot afford to be found assisting such groups.  The situation for Iran is more complicated, but they will also attempt to avoid confrontation with the US over the situation in Iraq.  But even more importantly, there is also no need for hordes of fighters to clamber over the Iraqi border; there are plenty of aggrieved local people who have strong reasons to oppose the US occupation.   And if Iran were interested in getting involved, all it would take to create serious trouble would be for a senior Iranian ayatollah to issue a fatwa.  An interesting example comes to mind: in the 1980s ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, and the next day the American embassy in Pakistan was burned and severely damaged – and local people did it.


If the occupation in Iraq were viewed as a major conflict against the Iraqi people, and the impression were given that most Iraqis are hostile to the US, then this would have several negative connotations.  First, Americans might start asking when this war will end.  A continued occupation under such circumstances is likely to be a bloody affair, unpopular with the public, and definitely not good for re-election.  It is therefore necessary for US propaganda to emphasize the “foreign terrorist” refrain – giving the impression that if it weren’t for the pesky outsiders everything would go according to plan.  Furthermore, if the US has to use force against the local population, then all sorts of international legal issues arise pertaining to the duties of the occupying power.  The US has all but abrogated the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international statutes dealing with torture, etc. – one only needs to look at the prison it has built in Guantanamo and the way the prisoners are treated there.  However, due to its current international standing, the US cannot admit this for fear of provoking more hostility.  Hence, the fiction that the US is fighting a “war on terror” is convenient because it sees no need to observe any international legal statutes in this self-proclaimed war.


The “foreign terrorist” fiction also lends itself to restarting its war against countries in the area.  The neocons are fighting among themselves to determine if Syria or Iran should be next in line.  If Syria is the flavor of the month, then “the terrorists are coming from Syria”!  Hey, the proof is very easy to fabricate: just dangle a few bodies from a lamppost and claim they came from Syria.  This propaganda ploy is far easier than finding WMD, and less likely to cause an embarrassment – dead bodies don’t talk.  Any further American claims of  “foreign terrorists” needs to be handled with great skepticism.


The US also can’t be seen to be hunting terrorists all the time, and sometimes it is all too obvious that the locals are actually the targets.  For these reasons, a new variation on the theme has arisen: “fighting local criminal gangs.”  On August 26th US troops sought to capture a “criminal gang” and thus swooped on a tiny town with tanks, helicopters, and more than 1,000 soldiers.  Wasn’t this a bit of an overkill to capture a criminal gang?  Perhaps the explanation resides in the apparent need to teach an Iraqi town a lesson for its hostility against the occupiers – kicking in all doors in the town, and rounding up a few dozen men will probably send the desired message, and do so in a way that is propaganda compliant, i.e., just rounding up the hoodlums.


Violent acts perpetrated by the Iraqi resistance cannot be classified as terrorism and the US response against the local population is circumscribed by international legal conventions.  These facts are uncomfortable, and thus the need for the propaganda line that the US is fighting a war on terrorism, and all the noises it makes must be consistent with such a story.  



Emergence of a general rule: if a claim is made about the occupation of Iraq, and all that can be provided as proof are Pentagon statements or monotonous statements by “terrorism experts”, then there is a very high probability that a new propaganda lie has been fabricated.




The body bag counter


A good barometer of the propaganda in action is the way US military deaths are reported.  Here is a curious example where a fatality has been reclassified.  On August 20th CentCom issued the following communiqué (abridged, emphasis added):


August 20, 2003 Release Number: 03-08-40



BAGHDAD, Iraq – One 3rd Corps Support Command soldier was killed and another injured in a two-vehicle accident while driving south on the main supply route southeast of the town of Ad Diwaniyah.


The soldiers were driving in a supply convoy of Palletized Loading System vehicles when they received small arms fire and struck another vehicle.  […] Security, medical and recovery assets were dispatched to the scene.  One soldier died as a result of the accident.



A day later DefenseLink issued the following confirmation notification (abridged, emphasis added).



Aug 21, 2003 DefenseLink No. 613-03


DoD Identifies Army Casualty.  The Department of Defense announced today that Spc. Kenneth W. Harris, Jr., 23, […] was killed on Aug. 20 in Scania, Iraq.  Harris was fatally injured in a two-vehicle accident while driving south on the main supply route.  Another soldier was also injured in the incident.



Presto!  A combat death magically becomes an accidental death so the American and British media will not need to include this victim in their body count tallies.  One only wonders what the family of the victim will think of this reclassification.


Given that there is obvious deception in the admission of US-uk fatalities, it is therefore salutary to view the post-May 1st body bag chart.  For some reason no major news organization publishes this, although a public attuned to stock charts should have no trouble interpreting it.  CNN and BBC have a tendency of focusing on the latest victims to the exclusion of a more general trend.


The data used to generate the graph below are different from that used by most media networks. [3] It includes: (i) soldier fatalities in so-called accidents – it is highly likely that many accidents were actually due to hostile action; and (ii) civilians working for the military -- at present there are one British and one American in this category. [4] It excludes: (i) foreign soldiers, and civilians working for NGOs, e.g., the UN.  It also excludes foreign nationals who have been deliberately targeted, e.g., the Jordanian embassy -- there are very good reasons to add such fatalities, but the available data are limited;  (ii) non-Iraqi paramilitary personnel hired by the “security” companies.  These companies are increasingly assuming an important role in Iraq; they provide the mercenaries who will replace some functions of the US-uk forces. [5]


From May 1st, the official American declaration of an end to the war and the start of the occupation, until August 31st, there have been 166 US-uk fatalities; it is an average of 1.3 per day over this period.  The trend of the fatalities is up and it currently stands at 1.6 per day.  At the projected rates, the forecast for the total number of US-uk deaths between May 1st and December 31st is about 378.





To put these numbers into perspective, one must realize that most US patrols have been scaled down, and at present, most military personnel remains within military compounds.  Mercenaries are also taking over duties at checkpoints, something formerly done by US personnel.  These days Gurkhas are prominent among the guards around Baghdad airport.  Even with this lower profile the death rate is still rising.  In other words, the resistance to the occupation is becoming fiercer. 


Finally, for the color of the bodies in the US-uk casualty list, see the following table:




Post May 1st US-uk body colors, through Aug. 31, 2003

Race/ethnic Group


















Note: for details on the data see footnote 2 of The Parade of the Body Bags.



And now the elections…


Now that the US election campaign is moving into full swing, the propagandists will seek to hide all the unpalatable aspects of the occupation of Iraq.  There will be attempts to stoke the usual fears of terrorism or remind the American public about 9-11 (hence the recent release of the transcripts; see [2]).  At the same time, everything will be done to quash references to the mounting American death toll, to the generalized shambles that Iraq finds itself in, and the opprobrium around the world that this occupation has brought upon the US. 


With an election campaign in the offing, it is a time for a sober assessment of what Shrub (as the inimitable Texan commentator, Molly Ivins, likes to refer to Bush Jr.) and the scheming neocons have done for America.  Clarity in terms of the number of soldiers killed, and the reasons for the opposition to the US-uk troops, is important when evaluating America’s foreign policy and the performance of the Bush regime.  One would hope that our American friends would gain some deeper understanding of the motivation of their rulers and the way they are being manipulated.  Bush recently stated: “Retreat in the face of terror would only invite further and bolder attacks.  There will be no retreat.”  Perhaps Americans may well ponder the meaning of this – endless wars, mounting US soldier body bags, massive budget deficits, further erosion of civil liberties, and ever more deception flung at the people of the United States.


Paul de Rooij is a writer living in London, and can be reached at proox@hotmail.com (attachments will be automatically deleted.) This article is a follow up on The Parade of the Body Bags.  © 2003 Paul de Rooij


Other articles by Paul de Rooij:


* The Parade of the Body Bags

* Ambient Death in Palestine

* The Hydra’s New Head: Propagandists, and Selling the US-Iraq War

* Gretta Duisenberg: An Activist in the Trenches

* Propaganda Stinkers: Fresh Samples From the Field

* Arrogant Propaganda: US Propaganda During The First 10 Days of the US- Iraq War

* A Glossary of Warmongering




[1]      August 26, 2003 BBC Radio Four, Today Program.


[2]      One should view the recent release of the “Transcripts of frantic calls made as 9/11 victims tried to flee the burning twin towers” in this light.  It is just an attempt to rekindle the “terrorism” theme, and to deflect the criticism of the situation in Iraq.


[3]      For a more detailed discussion of the data used here see my: The Parade of the Body Bags, ff. 2.


[4]      The American civilian was an interpreter accompanying US troops.  An American soldier who just returned from Iraq confirmed that the interpreters he saw also wore a camouflage uniform, so it is odd to class them as civilians and not count them.


[5]      US-UK implies that they are equal partners in this war and occupation.  However, the UK provided less than 10% of the armed forces for the war and the occupation.  The UK participation is minimal, and therefore the designation US-uk conveys the relative weighting of the contribution of the principal members of the “coalition”.



FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from freestats.com