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Executive Summary

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"It is not a lie when you are ordered to lie."
– a senior Iraqi biological weapons official

In December 1998, when U.N weapons inspector Dr. Richard Spertzel became exasperated by Iraqi evasions and misrepresentations, he confronted Dr. Rihab Taha, the woman the Iraqis identified as the head of their biological weapons program and asked her directly, "You know that we know you are lying. So why do you do it?" She straightened herself up and replied, "Dr. Spertzel, it’s not a lie when you are ordered to lie."1

Dr. Taha's brief reply is one symbol of a highly developed, well disciplined, and expertly organized program designed to win support for the Iraqi regime through outright deceit. This elaborate program is one of the regime's most potent weapons for advancing its political, military, and diplomatic objectives. In their disinformation and propaganda campaigns, the Iraqis use elaborate ruses and obvious falsehoods, covert actions and false on-the-record statements, and sophisticated preparation and spontaneous exploitation of opportunities. Many of the techniques are not new, but this regime exploits them more aggressively and effectively – and to more harmful effect – than any other regime in power today.

In the weeks ahead, as the international community seeks to enforce UN Security Council resolutions and disarm the Iraqi regime, governments, the media, and the public are urged to consider the regime's words, deeds, and images in light of this brutal record of deceit.

Apparatus of Lies discusses the lies that Iraq has used to promote its propaganda and disinformation in four broad categories:

  • Crafting Tragedy: To craft tragedy, the regime places civilians close to military equipment, facilities, and troops, which are legitimate targets in an armed conflict. The Iraqi regime openly used both Iraqis and foreigners as human shields during the Gulf War, eventually bowing to international pressure and releasing them. It has also placed military equipment next to or inside mosques and ancient cultural treasures. Finally, it has deliberately damaged facilities and attributed the damage to coalition bombing and has attempted to pass off damage from natural catastrophes, such as earthquakes, as the result of bombing.

  • Exploiting Suffering: To exploit suffering, Saddam blames starvation and medical crises – often of his own making – on the United Nations or the United States and its allies. This is such an effective ruse that the Iraqi regime actually causes or actively ignores hardship and then aggressively exploits the Iraqi people’s suffering. For the last few years, the Iraqis have aggressively promoted the false notion that depleted uranium – a substance that is relatively harmless and was used for armor-piercing munitions during the Gulf War – has caused cancers and birth defects among Iraqis. Scientific evidence indicates that any elevated rates of cancer and birth defects are most likely due to Iraqi use of chemical weapons.

  • Exploiting Islam: Experts know that Saddam Hussein is a non-religious man from a secular – even atheistic – party. But to exploit Islamic sentiments, he adopts expressions of faith in his public pronouncements, and the Iraqi propaganda apparatus erects billboards and distributes images showing him praying or in other acts of piety – all while the regime prevents pilgrims from making the Hajj. The regime also has made many false claims designed to incite Muslims against its adversaries.

  • Corrupting the Public Record: To corrupt the public record, the regime uses a combination of on-the-record lies, covert placements of false news accounts, self-inflicted damage, forgeries, and fake interviews.

The Iraqi regime uses several tools in various combinations to disseminate false information and images in the expectation that supporters and commentators will cause it to reverberate through the media. Many of these falsehoods die quickly, but even the most implausible claims can find believers or at least a permanent home in the public record. Under certain circumstances, some will gain vigor and continue to be repeated and grow, even after they have been proven false.

The Iraqis have adapted and varied their mix of themes and techniques over the years, depending on the situation, and they have quickly seized new opportunities to spread false information. Iraq’s disinformation effort is serious and sophisticated. The regime commits substantial resources to this effort and has achieved some remarkable successes.

Main Tools of Iraqi Disinformation
  • Staged suffering and grief
  • Co-location of military assets and civilians
  • Restricting journalists’ movements
  • False claims or disclosures
  • False man-in-the-street interviews
  • Self-inflicted damage
  • On-the-record lies
  • Covert dissemination of false stories
  • Censorship
  • Bogus, edited, or old footage and images
  • Fabricated documents

An important priority of Saddam's deception apparatus is to manipulate the televised images the world sees. This is accomplished by controlling the movements of foreign journalists, monitoring and censoring news transmissions, disseminating old or fake footage, and carefully staging events or scenes. The regime's most cynical strategy is to actually cause severe civilian hardship or even deaths and then exploit the Iraqi people’s suffering by placing the blame on UN-imposed sanctions or other nations.

Recent U.S. government reports, including A Decade of Defiance and Deception, have documented Saddam's deceit regarding UN resolutions and weapons inspections. In order to raise awareness of many of the regime's other forms of deception, particularly those likely to be repeated, Apparatus of Lies examines the facts behind Iraqi disinformation and propaganda since 1990. Given the nature and history of the regime, evidence of further deception is almost certain to come to light.

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