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Last Updated: Monday, 31 March, 2003, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Fighting the psy-ops war in Basra
Psy-ops leaflet
Commandos are distributing leaflets as part of the psy-ops campaign

The battle for the key Iraqi city of Basra is being fought not just with guns and tanks, but on the airwaves as well, as part of a psychological operations, or "psy-ops", campaign.

One of the key activities of the 15 UK Psychological Operations Group has been setting up a radio station for Basra.

Gino, one of the station's three presenter/interpreters, tells the city's people that life is about to improve.

"Medical stocks and drugs have been held back by the Republican Army, the Baath Party, and these supplies have been freed now by the coalition forces," says one broadcast.

'Public relations'

The station is overseen by Lt Colonel Mason, a part-time soldier who is also the deputy chairman of Choice FM in London.

Colonel Mason told the BBC he did not consider the radio station to be mere propaganda.

"For sure, the team here is not selling a line," Colonel Mason said.

"I think there's a very fine dividing line between public relations and what you would call propaganda anyway.

"There's very few other radio stations on the band, and suddenly in that vacuum we have something very dramatic that is happening around Basra, but perhaps nobody's explaining why or what it's about.

"We can actually do that."

The sort of product that we are putting out is reassuring people that we're not going to disappear, and that the Saddam Hussein days are numbered
Lt Colonel Mason

Colonel Mason added that psy-ops were particularly important in Basra because the citizens were very wary of trusting the coalition forces.

After the last Gulf War in 1991, the people of Basra rose up against the Iraqi leader but were not backed up by the coalition as they had expected.

"The sort of product that we are putting out is reassuring people that we're not going to disappear, and that the Saddam Hussein days are numbered," Colonel Mason said.

"The troops are here to stay - they will not be abandoned.

"That will give them reassurance."

'Non-lethal system'

The message is similar in other areas of the psy-ops war.

"This time, we won't abandon you," says one leaflet handed out to troops heading into Basra and likely to reach civilians and soldiers seeking to defect.

Some 45,000 handbills have been given to troops who encounter Iraqi soldiers who do not want to fight, instructing them on how to hand themselves over.

The British 42 Commando psy-ops team in Umm Qasr
British psy-ops teams are in operation throughout southern Iraq

"It makes it a lot easier for them to communicate," said Lance Corporal Jim Wyatt, who has drawn many of the illustrations on the leaflets.

He added that the leaflets gave Basra residents a "very sincere picture of British troops".

"This actually appeared on TV. That leaflet acted as an introduction of our forces - to say follow our instructions, we're here to help."

Colonel Mason stressed the additional importance of psy-ops in an era in which every death is scrutinised.

"In this day and age it's very difficult to fire real bullets," he said.

"This is a way to be able to talk to people, engaging their reason.

"It's a non-lethal system."

Lt Colonel Mason
"This is a way to be able to talk to people"


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