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Public relations preparations for 2003 invasion of Iraq

This article is about the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. For more information on this particular part of the topic, see Support and opposition for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Rendon Group, a Washington, DC based public relations firm with close ties to the US government, and which has had a prominent role in promoting the Iraqi National Congress, was alleged by some journalists to be planning to support the 2003 invasion of Iraq by a careful public relations campaign.

Such a campaign would be viewed by many with skepticism, recalling that the PR firm Hill & Knowlton, damage-controller for the tobacco industry, was hired by the Kuwaiti Royal Family to support the Gulf War in 1991 with a campaign including misinformation such as a false story of Iraqi soldiers' barbaric treatment of incubator babies. (see Nurse Nayirah)

In late 2001, with the Pentagon's focus on information warfare as an integral facet of the American war doctrine increasing, the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence was formed. This office was created with a mandate to propagandize throughout the Middle East, Asia and Western Europe, with the help of the abovementioned Rendon Group. In February 2002, amid a backlash of public outcry resulting from a New York Times article, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed he lacked knowledge of the program and the OSI was closed down.

In January of 2003, with the Office of Strategic Influence dismantled, President Bush formally announced "the creation of a White House "Office of Global Communications" to broadcast the United States' message worldwide ahead of possible war on Iraq," which had been effectively operating for several months prior. According to the White House, the office will disseminate the policies of the US Government to media sources, domestic and foreign, and send "teams of communicators to international hot spots, areas of media interest." Having a similar mission to the now-defunct OSI, many skeptics have voiced opinions regarding the legitimacy of this new office.

Government statements that set the stage for war

The U.S. government has tried to sell the notion that the war against Iraq is critical to the American "War on Terrorism": "In the war on terror, Iraq is now the central front..." President Bush said on December 14, 2005 (Bush, George W. "President Discusses Iraqi Elections, Victory in the War on Terror." White House, Official Press Release). Also, the public was asked to believe that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was connected to 9/11: "The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001..." (Bush, George W. "President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended" White House, Official Press Release, May 1, 2003]. In the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney suggested during a, "Meet the Press" interview that Iraq was involved in the September 11 attack: Iraq is, "the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9-11." [Davies, Frank. "Study: Misperceptions About Iraq War Contributed to Support For It." Knight-Ridder, October 3, 2003.)

Orchestrated deception campaign

President Bush and Bush Administration officials made hundreds of false statements in an orchestrated public relations campaign to galvanize public opinion for the war, according to a study by two not-for-profit journalism organizations. For example, on at least 532 occasions top Bush Administration officials stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or was trying to produce or obtain them, or had links to al Qaeda, or both. These statements were demonstrably false. The study concluded that the U.S. government's public relations campaign against the U.S. public thus led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.

According to the study, U.S. news organizations facilitated the government's orchestrated campaign of false statements by their largely quite uncritical and deferential coverage of government statements, thus providing seemingly "independent" validation of the false statements in the minds of the U.S. public. “Some journalists and even entire news organizations have since acknowledged that their coverage during those prewar months was far too deferential and uncritical.

Manufactured Evidence

A letter concocted by the CIA

Based on the statements of several named CIA senior officials who spoke on record, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Ron Suskind's book "The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism" states that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a letter made to appear as a letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence, Tahir Jalil Habbush, to Saddam Hussein and backdated to July 1, 2001. The White House also wanted the forged letter to state that Saddam was buying yellowcake from Niger with help from a "small team from the al Qaeda organization.

U.S. intelligence officials stated on the record that President Bush was informed unequivocally in January 2003 that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. However, eager for "evidence" justifying war against Iraq, the White House ordered the manufacture of a letter stating that 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta had trained for his mission in Iraq, thus purporting to establish with finally the existence of an operation link between Saddam and al-Qaeda.

Searching for a justification for invasion, Vice President Cheney's office had been pressuring the CIA to prove that an operation link existed between Saddam and al-Qaeda. Pursuant to the White House order, the CIA concocted the handwritten letter, with Habbush's name on it, and then hand-carried it agent to Baghdad for dissemination."

CIA Director George Tenet returned from the White House with the assignment written on White House stationery, and assigned the task to CIA operatives. CIA officers Richer and John Maguire, were in charge of the Iraq Operations Group. They are both on the record in Suskind’s book confirming the existence of the fake Habbush letter.

The forged letter was released and written about by Western newssources, including the London Sunday Telegraph, as evidence of Iraq government links to 9/11. NBC News reported the letter as “really concrete proof that al-Qaeda was working with Saddam.” During the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. "resettled" Habbush to a safe house in Jordan during and then paid him $5 million in what, according to Suskind, could only be considered "hush money.

Yellowcake from Niger

Allegedly, the Bush Administration also knowingly fraudulently asserted as evidence that the Hussein government had sought to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger. On March 7, 2003, intelligence documents submitted as evidence to the IAEA were dismissed by the agency as forgeries, with the concurrence of outside experts. At the time, a U.S. official claimed that the evidence was submitted to the IAEA without knowledge of its provenance, and characterized any mistakes as "more likely due to incompetence not malice"; this explanation was deemed unsatisfactory by former CIA official and Iraq War critic Ray Close. Those who oppose these critics of the invasion maintain the fraudulent documents were never central--or even relevant--in intelligence assessments regarding Iraq seeking uranium.

The Downing Street memorandum

The 2005 release of the so-called Downing Street Memo, a secret British document summarizing a 2002 meeting among British political, intelligence, and defence leaders also tended to show the US and Britain willing to "fix" intelligence as necessary to support the war against Iraq. According to the memo, Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service Sir Richard Dearlove claimed that "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. Some supporters of the war, however, claim the Memo simply reveals someone giving voice to an opinion, and does not constitute proof of any facts.

Non-existent capabilities of unmanned Iraqi drones

In October, 2002, a few days before the U.S. Senate vote on the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution, about 75 senators were told in closed session that Saddam Hussein had the means of delivering biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction by unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) drones that could be launched from ships off the Atlantic coast to attack U.S. eastern seaboard cities. Colin Powell suggested in his presentation to the United Nations that UAVs were transported out of Iraq and could be launched against the U.S. In fact, Iraq had no offensive UAV fleet or any capability of putting UAVs on ships. Iraq's UAV fleet consisted of less than a handful of outdated Czech training drones. At the time, there was a vigorous dispute within the intelligence community as to whether the CIA's conclusions about Iraq's UAV fleet were accurate. The U.S. Air Force agency most familiar with UAVs denied outright that Iraq possessed any offensive UAV capability.

The Manning Memo

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and President Bush met at the White House on Jan. 31, 2003, and David Manning, Mr. Blair's chief foreign policy adviser, took notes of the meeting later leaked in Britain to the public by a whistleblower. These notes are known as the "Manning Memo" (different from the "Downing Street Memo," although David Manning was involved with producing both). The Manning Memo states that Bush and Blair had decided that they would invade Iraq even if the UN weapons inspectors found no WMD in Iraq as Bush and Blair alleged. Bush and Blair "penciled in" March 10 as the day they would commence the war. The president and the prime minister acknowledged that no WMD had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of no WMD being found by their desired war date, Bush suggested several ways to provoke a war, including a proposal to paint a United States U2 surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations and flying it in Iraqi air space in the hopes that Iraq would fire on it, and a proposal to assassinate the Iraqi head of state, Mr. Hussein. The Iraqi response could then be used to mobilize public opinion for war. Bush and Blair also agreed to continue to push aggressively for a second UN Security Council resolution, one that would authorize the use of force, however, the UN Security Council failed to pass the second resolution. Bush and Blair agreed that "The US would put its full weight behind efforts to get another resolution and would twist arms and even threaten," according to the Memo.

Success of the public relations campaign

The U.S. government's public relations campaign was largely successful in getting the American public to accept false beliefs to support the war. Approximately 70% of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein had a role in the 9/11 attacks, even though the Bush administration and congressional investigators say they have no evidence of this. As late as 2006 an astonishing 90% of U.S. troops in Iraq said the U.S. mission was mainly "to retaliate for Saddam's role in the 9-11 attacks."

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