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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part II

Transition to a New Campaign

Chapter 7
Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq

On 29 January 2005, the day before the first democratic elections in Iraq were to be held, a rocket landed near the American Embassy in Baghdad’s International Zone killing two Americans and wounding five others. Soldiers in an aviation unit from the 1st Cavalry Division (1st CAV) caught the launch of the rocket on an airborne video camera and recorded seven insurgents leaving the launch site and traveling to a building in the southeastern part of the capital. Soldiers from the 1st CAV then moved into the neighborhood and detained the seven men.1 This attack, launched on the eve of the elections, was clearly intended to lash out at the Coalition as well as create the impression in Iraqi minds that the Coalition, regardless of its military strength, could not create a secure environment in which to hold elections for the Iraqi National Assembly. The insurgents hoped to plant fear in the population and thus prevent them from going to the polls. Major General Peter Chiarelli, the commander of the 1st CAV, viewed the attack as potentially having adverse strategic effects on the overall Coalition effort. Chiarelli immediately directed that the videotape of the launch and the detention of the insurgents be declassified and given to Iraqi media outlets so that it could calm the concerns caused by news of the attack that had already begun spreading among Baghdad’s population.2 The public release of that videotape, which occurred within hours of the attack, demonstrated the Coalition’s efficiency in dealing with threats and its resolve to maintain secure conditions for the elections that were held successfully the next day in the capital and across the country. Chiarelli’s use of the Iraqi media to help protect the security of the elections also serves as an excellent illustration of how after 18 months of conducting full spectrum operations, the US Army had come to understand and employ information in its overall campaign in Iraq.

The action taken by the 1st CAV commander and his Soldiers was just one engagement that US Soldiers fought in an extremely difficult and critical “battle of ideas” in Iraq. This battle was of paramount importance, and Army leaders had understood its significance from the inception of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF). When Coalition military commanders articulated their understanding of the campaign during 2003 and 2004, they often defined the center of gravity (COG) of the campaign as the Iraqi people. If the Coalition hoped to be successful, it needed to convince the citizens of Iraq that its goals were in their best interests and its actions in support of these goals were effective and sincere. Military leaders also had to counter propaganda from forces opposed to the Coalition. If this battle of ideas was successful, commanders believed most Iraqis would willingly embrace the Coalition’s efforts to provide security and remake Iraq into a unified, stable, prosperous, and free nation.

The Army’s chief means of fighting the battle of ideas was a group of related actions and processes, collectively called information operations (IO). Army doctrine in 2003 defined IO as a set of activities taken to attack or defend information and information systems to gain information superiority and to affect decisionmaking of both friendly and enemy forces.4 IO thus included operations designed to militarily attack enemy automation systems and defend friendly automation systems, particularly those providing command and control to military units. This so-called “hard” aspect of IO played a prominent role during the actual invasion of Iraq in March and April 2003, and it continued throughout the period in this study at a lesser intensity.

The aspect of IO doctrine used by Chiarelli on the eve of the elections included another set of activities designed to win the ideological struggle for ideas. During the full spectrum campaign that followed the invasion of Iraq, most US leaders believed this “soft power” side of IO was more important than the “hard” side because it had the potential to win over the Iraqi population and the international community. The concepts and terminology involved were very complex, and synchronizing them with other forms of operations was a delicate task. It was also difficult to assess the results of IO, because it dealt not just with observable actions, but also with the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

Parallel to and often intertwined with this battle of ideas in Iraq was the Army’s diligent effort to tell its story to the American people. Army public affairs (PA) offices and public affairs officers (PAO) provided command information to the media and facilitated media access to US units. Like the soft power aspect of IO, PA also dealt with the intangible realm of ideas. These two missions were by doctrine quite distinct. IO is one of the tools used to conduct military operations; its purposes are to protect one’s own information systems, attack the enemy’s systems, and use information to achieve certain results with targeted audiences. The mission of PA, however, is to provide truthful information to the American people, and by extension to the international community, about the Army’s operations. Army leaders during this period of OIF were faced with the doctrinal, organizational, and sometimes ethical tension between manipulating information to achieve specific military objectives and providing accurate information to tell the Army story. This tension became acute because most of the Army’s efforts in the battle of ideas occurred within a complex non-Western culture.

Using information to support the new campaign in Iraq was an extremely challenging task in 2003 and 2004. Many Department of Defense (DOD), Army, and civilian leaders somewhat complicated the task by using the terms “strategic communications” and “strategic effects” in conjunction with and synonymous with IO. The conflation of terms, and creation of various staff agencies to use information in support of military operations, made understanding and directing IO that much more difficult.* This chapter will first briefly examine the concepts and doctrine underlying the use of information and then cover the conduct of IO to include its use by Iraqi insurgents during OIF. The discussion will then shift to the relationships between the Army and the media in providing PA support to the campaign. Finally, the chapter will examine the work of Army PA Soldiers in Iraq, including their efforts in relation to the Iraqi media.

*This chapter will use the term “information operations” in its broadest sense, meaning the use of information and information systems in support of military operations. Where necessary, the distinctions between particular doctrinal and operational terms will be discussed more broadly.

Chapter 7. Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq

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