DOHA, Qatar—The United States has dropped more than 8 million leaflets over Iraq, warning Iraqis not to oppose American troops should they enter the country.
During nighttime missions, U.S. planes drop fiberglass bombs that burst 4,000 feet above earth. Each explosion releases clouds of white smoke and 60,000 paper leaflets, which spin like helicopter blades before they land in target areas the size of a living room.
The psychological warfare has been going on for months and is an attempt to intimidate those who might try to fight American troops, and warn others to stay out of the way. The leaflets tell Iraqis about American radio broadcasts, urge citizens to stay away from military targets and warn "noble" Iraqi troops to think of their families rather than fight for Saddam Hussein.
The goal isn't to destroy the enemy, only his willingness to fight. "If we go to war, we'll know in the first few days how effective they are in the number of Iraqi soldiers who capitulate," said Marine Maj. Pete Mitchell, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command. "We're anticipating, regularly, tens of thousands of Iraqis who capitulate."
Since the 1800s, when European troops used kites and balloons to send messages behind enemy lines, leaflets have been a way to communicate during war. Today, the military calculates wind speed and cuts paper into 3-by-6-inch rectangles. They're biodegradable and aerodynamically designed to land close together within 10 meters of the target.
American military analysts say that before allied firepower drives home the message, leaflets are crucial to hammer away at the resolve of Iraqi soldiers.
"The fact that we can enter his airspace and drop leaflets reminds the soldier that he doesn't control his country," said P.J. Crowley, former White House National Security Council spokesman during the Clinton administration. Iraq's military is believed to be at less than half the strength it had entering the first Gulf War, when an estimated 87,000 troops gave up. As they dropped their weapons, many carried leaflets that showed surrendering troops eating bananas, considered a delicacy in Iraq.
"On occasion, specific units were the targets of leaflets informing them that they would soon be bombed and should surrender," said Mark Burgess, a research analyst with Washington's Center for Defense Information. "In seven weeks, 29 million leaflets were dropped, reaching around 98 percent of the Iraqi troops they were targeted at. Seventy percent of Iraqi prisoners would later claim the leaflets were instrumental in their surrender."
Leaflets have their limits, however. Many in Afghanistan offered rewards for Osama bin Laden. He remains at large.
"It's an art that is similar in a number of ways to advertising but with much higher stakes," said Francois Boo of GlobalSecurity.org, a military think tank.
Military analysts and artists design the leaflets, determining the messages and making sure they are culturally sensitive. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who would direct any war against Iraq, must approve each leaflet, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also reviews most.
Many leaflets promote a radio station broadcast from a plane named Commando Solo, an EC-130E that beams AM, FM and shortwave signals that can reach much of Iraq. Mixed in with popular songs are short messages to Iraqis.
"Saddam Hussein has already used chemical weapons on his fellow countrymen," one broadcast asserts. "The world community is working towards the halt of the proliferation of these weapons and asks for your support."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.