Influencing public opinion

An interesting story in the New York Times today about an Iraqi pirate satellite station, Al Zawra:

The video starts with a young American soldier patrolling an Iraqi street. His head is obscured by leaves, so a red target is digitally inserted to draw the viewer’s eye. A split second later, the soldier collapses, shot. Martial music kicks in, a jihadi answer to John Philip Sousa. The time and place of the attack scrolls at the bottom of the screen.

Such tapes, along with images of victims of Shiite militias and unflattering coverage of Shiite leaders, are beaming across Iraq and much of the Middle East 24 hours a day, broadcast by a banned Iraqi satellite television station that has become a major information center for the Sunni insurgency — and the focus of a cat-and-mouse hunt that has exasperated and infuriated American and Iraqi forces.

Making the situation even more galling for the authorities, American and Iraqi officials say that money stolen from the United States probably helps pay for the station….

In an interview conducted via e-mail, a representative of Al Zawra, who did not reveal his name, said that the station’s leaders had been a direct target of the Americans, and forced to move twice. The representative railed against the Americans and the Shiite militias, as well as the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

“Our media’s message is to broadcast the voice of the resisters to the American and Iranian occupation, to reveal the crimes of Badr Organization and Moktada’s army and the gangs of Maliki,” the representative said, citing two prominent Shiite militias, “and document it and work on forming a legal directorate to prosecute them in international courts for the crimes of genocide against the Sunni Arabs in Iraq.”…

The station also frequently offers critical coverage of the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr, including broadcasting a clip that the station says demonstrates his militia’s infiltration of the Iraqi Army. Mr. Sadr is shown sitting with aides, discussing how many militiamen he can spare to be a part of the Iraqi Army. In the end, he says that he will supply two divisions. The source of the video is unclear….

The particular words and phrases used to frame the Sunni position are of particular interest and indicate opportunities for counter-information campaigns, such as the “Iranian occupation”. The clip on Sadr’s connection with the IA is also interesting. How are we countering the Sunni message here? I’m not entirely clear on that because a “surge” without a plan doesn’t do that.

The impact of this imagery shouldn’t be underestimated to those who see it. In the US, the Washington Post ran a survey last year demonstrating the power of imagery. You should check it out.