Information Warfare: February 28, 2005

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In Iraq, American trainers have been trying just about anything to motivate Iraqi recruits to become good soldiers. One of the more effective ideas was to give the more successful Iraqi troops (the commandoes and police SWAT teams) more coverage on Iraqi television. Normally, soldiers and police try to keep their faces out of the news, since Saddams hit men are still in business, trying to terrorize Iraqis into not joining the army and police. But success breeds success, and American trainers noted that all the Iraq troops and police perked up when one of their successful operations showed on the TV news. So the Americans asked the local television stations to give Iraqi troops and police more coverage. The local media were happy to oblige, as the dramatic video of Iraqi troops and police carrying out raids, or even shooting it out with the bad guys, proved very popular. The talk radio shows made that clear (talk radio has become hugely popular in Iraq, especially now that more people have telephones). 

American trainers had also noted that Iraqis were much more willing to cooperate if only Iraqi troops are in sight. While the American trainers were naturally anxious about their students, they have been staying out of the way, remaining with the nearby backup force. If the Iraqi troops do run into unexpected resistance, the backup force, which is often largely Iraqi as well, and the quick reaction force (which is still usually American, and contains aircraft as well as ground troops), is available to make sure the enemy has no chance of winning. The Iraqis like fighting by these rules, and only have to learn to be disciplined, and avoid friendly fire situations.

It turned out that Iraqi army training under Saddam was pretty poor. Troops got little experience using their weapons with live ammo. Americans, on the other hand, practice a lot with live ammunition, and thus learn to be careful. The Russian style training Iraqis had received for decades was poor even by Russian standards. Troops had not been taught the importance of maintaining their weapons and equipment, and Iraqi officers were accustomed to leading via the use of fear and intimidation. All of this was very contrary to the American approach, thus creating quite a culture gap. Even Iraqis with years of experience in the Iraqi army had to be trained from scratch, and taught a lot of the basics American troops learned in their first two months of military service. With willing Iraqi recruits, you can get them trained to a reliable level in four to six months of intense work. But this will also involves actual raids after a few months training. Unless properly motivated, a lot of Iraqis either desert at this point, or are too nervous or cautious to be much good. Add to that the high casualty rate (about eight percent a year, dead and wounded), and you have a problem keeping your Iraqi troops properly motivated.

The media attention has changed that. By actually seeing other Iraqis going into action, wearing the body armor, helmet, goggles and night vision equipment, Iraqi civilians feel they have someone who can protect them from local thugs and terrorists. The Iraqi commandos seen on TV are moving like the Americans, but when they shout commands and talk to civilians, all you hear is Arabic with an Iraqi accent. Compilations of these news videos are starting to show up in stores, and more Iraqi troops and police are willing to go into action without covering their faces. At the same time, captured terrorists are being paraded on TV, partly to humiliate these guys who were, days before, terrorizing Iraqis. Human rights groups protested that this was illegal, as these men were prisoners of war. The government pointed out that these thugs were common criminals. However, the terrorists were feeling the heat, and now have been kidnapping, killing and intimidating anyone involved with TV news. So far, the TV stations have not backed down.

The media coverage has made these the soldiers and police heroes, and heroes do not fear Saddams thugs as much as ordinary Iraqis do. Being a celebrity does not make you a good soldier, but it makes you a more self-confident and satisfied one. That has made a difference, especially when all those potential recruits see what the bad guys do every day with their car bombs, assassinations and threats. Iraqi needs Iraqi heroes, and now they have them. Just tune in to Iraqi TV.

 


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