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Army analysts' Iraq memo plans strategy in `battle of ideas'

WASHINGTON -- A US Army study of Iraq written hours after Saddam Hussein's capture suggests little progress has been made in winning over Iraqi hearts and minds and reveals what critics say is a rigid and backward-looking approach to US efforts to rebuild the country and introduce democracy.

The memorandum, compiled by Army officers in Baghdad, recommends that officials begin broadcasts of Arabic-subtitled programming about US history and culture and contrast it with footage of Hussein's brutality -- something many analysts say should have been done months earlier.

With Hussein gone, the report suggests, the coalition needs to deprogram young Iraqis informed by years of pro-Hussein propaganda and iconography. Some two-thirds of Iraqis are younger than 26, the study points out, and have known nothing but Hussein's rule and the UN embargo that effectively isolated Iraq from the world.

The United States, according to the memorandum, should demystify the former Iraqi leader with a propaganda blitz.

"The coalition," says the study, "needs to show that when [Hussein] fell to the coalition he was a weak old man, cowardly, hiding in a hole. The History Channel should be the first thing that goes on the air, translated into Iraqi Arab dialect and broadcast on [local satellite station] al Iraqia, showing the history of the US and what US culture is [while] at the same time showing the atrocities of Saddam and the future ahead.

"These are the items that the Iraqis have been starved of," the report goes on, "information that they need to remove the bigotry that they have against the West, the same as we have against the Middle East and Islam."

The study, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe, was written by a three-member Army team. Analysts in the United States praised its emphasis on the need to communicate with young Iraqis, but pointed out such efforts should have been launched immediately after the occupation began.

Rather than complaining about an anti-US and pro-Hussein bias in reporting from established Arab broadcasters like Al Jazeera, analysts say, the US should have been more aggressive in building its own network.

"This should have been done sooner and better," said Gary Sick, senior research scholar at Columbia University. "It's a good idea, as most people in the Middle East don't have a sophisticated understanding of what democracy is all about. But it sounds odd coming eight months into the occupation."

Since the fall of Baghdad, Iraqis have said the coalition has failed to communicate effectively with them.

The Pentagon this week announced it would delay awarding a $100 million contract for a multimedia service -- originally envisioned as a means to communicate with the Iraqi people -- to allow interim Iraqi leaders a say in whether it should be a private company, government owned, or something in between. A pilot broadcaster operated by the California-based Science Applications International Corp., a government contractor known primarily for its military and technological expertise, has been widely regarded as inadequate.

A Pentagon spokesman in Washington said he was unaware of the study but that promoting US culture and history was consistent with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's recent emphasis on waging and winning a "battle of ideas," particularly in the Muslim world.

Few officials inside the US-led occupation in Iraq believe the attacks on coalition forces and Iraqis working with them would decline following Hussein's capture, according to the study, which predicted more violence after the former dictator's arrest.

The study suggested that US officials missed an opportunity to counter the insurgents' aims by not working closely with Iraq's tribal leaders immediately after major combat ended last spring. The concept of administering through clan elders -- a strategy adopted by Britain during its occupation of Iraq decades ago -- was dismissed by advisers to the Pentagon as it crafted postwar policy, say officials in Baghdad. "The poo-bahs here and in Washington are beginning to realize that if we want to get security and start the big projects, we must play ball with the tribal leaders," said a US consultant in Baghdad.

Among those in the Pentagon's planning circle was Ahmad Chalabi, the former exile who is now a member of the country's interim ruling council. At a February meeting of dissident groups in Sulaymaniya, a city in northern Iraq's Kurdish region, Chalabi scoffed when asked about tribal influence. "What tribes?" Chalabi said to reporters. "Iraq is an urban society. There are 6 million people in Baghdad."

The coalition has since revived the British method. "That means establishing tribal militias and most of all, handing out money," said the consultant. "The latter is far more important."The study divides Iraqis into four categories -- those who offer "active" or "passive" support of the US coalition, or on the other hand, of the insurgency -- and recommends the coalition target uncommitted Iraqis with "themes and messages that emphasize the former regime's total [loss] of power [and] . . . claims that the attacks of the past, the actions of the insurgents have been from Saddam but now he is gone." Rick Barton, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies and the leader of a July report on the coalition's postwar performance, said dwelling on Hussein's tyranny was less important than focusing on the future.

"The loser in this war has been fairly clear for some time and yes, the capture of Saddam puts a defining point on that," Barton said. "But the winner has not been established . . . The question of who will govern Iraq has yet to be clarified . . . largely because of problems with communications."

Stephen J. Glain can be reached at glain@globe.com.

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