Iraqis 'psyched out of the war': Patrick Cockburn on the leaflet bombers with 'offers' Saddam Hussein's troops could not resist

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IN THE first two months of 1991, the US Air Force dropped not only bombs on Iraqi troops in Kuwait. It also dropped 29 million leaflets.

Resistance, said the Arabic-language leaflets, was useless. 'We have already informed you of our promise to bomb the 7th Infantry Division,' read one. 'We kept our promise and bombed them yesterday. Beware. We will repeat this tomorrow. The choice is yours. Stay and face death or accept the invitation of the Joint Forces to protect your lives.'

The National Security Archive, based in Washington, has succeeded in getting the leaflets declassified under the Freedom of Information Act. Tom Blanton, executive director of the archive, wonders why they were ever classified as secret, since millions of copies were dropped in the deserts of Kuwait.

Did the leaflets persuade demoralised Iraqi soldiers to surrender? Colonel Layton G Dunbar, commander of the Psychological Operations group, based in Fort Bragg in North Carolina, believes they did. 'According to numerous sources, including captured Iraqi soldiers, these leaflets were extremely effective in convincing Iraqi soldiers to cease resistance,' he said. Given that some 87,000 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to the allies, his belief appears to have some justification.

According to Col Dunbar, each leaflet was written by a Psychological Operations (PsyOps) team, and was part of a wider effort to demoralise Iraqi troops in Kuwait and southern Iraq. This included setting up a radio station called Voice of the Gulf, which, according to Col Dunbar, was 'the most reliable source of war news available to Iraqi soldiers', and sending teams armed with loudspeakers forward with allied troops to persuade Iraqis to surrender. Psychological operations 'do not win wars alone,' he says. 'They are a force multiplier, one that saves lives.'

Not only did 87,000 Iraqi soldiers surrender but, according to captured Iraqi officers, a further 153,000 had deserted before the ground war began. For those wanting to surrender, the leaflets gave specific instructions, telling soldiers to remove magazines from their weapons and place the rifle over the left shoulder with the muzzle down. After raising their hands over their heads, the soldiers should 'wave a white cloth to signal your peaceful intent, or hold up this leaflet'.

Another leaflet contained detailed instructions on the delicate procedure of surrendering a tank. 'Elevate your weapons to the maximum elevation and traverse the gun tube over the back deck. Expose the tank's flank to the approaching forces. Leave the tank hatches open.'

The most effective information dispensed by the psychological warfare group was surprisingly simple. The Iraqis were informed that the Saudi border was much closer than their superiors had said, and the journey south to surrender would be less of an odyssey than they had thought.

(Photograph omitted)