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U.S. Rains Radio Broadcasts, Pamphlets on Iraq

Starting this week, the U.S. military is broadcasting what it calls "information radio" –- and what others call psychological operations messages -- to the people of Iraq. Transmitted from a specially-equipped C-130 transport plane outside Iraqi air space, the broadcasts are similar to those beamed into Afghanistan in Fall 2001, when U.S.-led troops went to war in response to the 9/11 terror attacks.

On Weekend Edition Saturday, NPR's Scott Simon discusses the "psyops" broadcasts with Mike Linstead of BBC Monitoring, an organization that is recording and translating the transmissions. The BBC Monitoring service translates radio, television, print and Internet information from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

The broadcasts into Iraq, transmitted 6-11 p.m. local time starting on Dec. 16 on a full spectrum of radio signals, "are a bit different than the ones to Afghanistan," says Linstead. "They're not as threatening …Obviously we're in a different scenario," with war against Iraq only a threat at this point, but war in Afghanistan underway in Fall 2001. Consequently, Linstead says, the messages Iraqis hear –- in broadcasts that sometimes jam and override their own local stations -- are "more reassuring."

One broadcast recorded by BBC Monitoring featured Arabic love songs, and pop songs popular in Iraq and Lebanon, Linstead says. It also featured a biography of Mohammad Al-Baradi -- head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a leader of the U.N. weapons inspection teams in Iraq –- that Linstead said seemed designed to reassure Iraqis that the inspection effort was being overseen by a fellow Arab.

Still, Linstead tells Simon, the broadcasts do raise, if obliquely, the specter of war against Iraq. One report described a military exercise now underway that has moved the U.S. forces' command and control center into the region. Though this exercise takes place regularly around the globe, Linstead says, the last time it was conducted in the Middle East was in 1990, shortly before the Gulf War. And the broadcast report about the exercise "was quite clearly a message to the people of Iraq…that America is in the process of preparing for a military engagement in the region," he says.

U.S. Central Command has not said how long the broadcasts will continue.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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