INFORMATION WARFARE, PSY-OPS, AND THE POWER OF MYTH
By Mike Whitney
February 18, 2007
The bombing of the Golden Dome Mosque in Samarra is the cornerstone of Bush’s psychological operations (psy-ops) in Iraq. That’s why it is critical to have an independent investigation and discover who is really responsible. The bombing has been used as a “Pearl Harbor-type” event which has deflected responsibility for the 650,000 Iraqi casualties and more than three million refugees. These are the victims of American occupation, not civil war.
The bombing was concocted by men who believe they can control the public through perception management. In practical terms, this means that they create events that can be used to support their far-right doctrine. In this case, the destruction of the mosque has been used to confuse the public about the real origins of the rising sectarian tensions and hostilities. The fighting between Sunni and Shiite is the predictable upshot of random bombings and violence that bears the signature of covert operations carried out by intelligence organizations. Most of the pandemonium in Iraq is the result of counterinsurgency operations (black-ops) on a massive scale not civil war.
The Pentagon’s bold new approach to psychological operations (psy-ops) appears to have derived from the theories of former State Dept official, Philip Zelikow, who also served on the 9-11 Commission. Zelikow is an expert on the creation and maintenance of “public myths” or “public presumptions.” His theory analyzes how consciousness is shaped by “searing events” which take on “transcendent importance” and, therefore, move the public in the direction chosen by the policymakers.
According to Wikipedia: "In the Nov.-Dec. 1998 issue of Foreign Affairs he (Zelikow) co-authored an article called 'Catastrophic Terrorism' in which he speculated that if the 1993 bombing of the World Trade center had succeeded, “the resulting horror and chaos would have exceeded our ability to describe it. Such an act of catastrophic terrorism would be a watershed event in American history.” “It could involve loss of life and property unprecedented in peacetime and undermine America’s fundamental sense of security, as did the Soviet bomb test in 1949. The U.S. might respond with draconian measures, scaling back civil liberties, allowing wider surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects, and use of deadly force. More violence could follow, either future terrorist attacks or U.S. counterattacks. Belatedly, Americans would judge their leaders negligent for not addressing terrorism more urgently.”
Zelikow’s article presumes that if one creates their own “searing event” (such as 9-11 or the bombing of the Golden Dome Mosque) they can steer the public in whatever direction they choose. His theory depends entirely on a “state-media nexus” which can be depended on to disseminate propaganda uniformly. There is no more reliable propaganda system in the world today than the Western media.
NEW CLUES IN THE BOMBING
New clues have surfaced in the case of the bombing of the Golden Mosque, which suggests that the claims of the Bush administration are false. An article by Marc Santora (“One Year Later, Golden Mosque still in Ruins,” New York Times [Feb. 13, 2007; see #2 below]) provides eyewitness testimony of what really took place one year ago:
“A caretaker at the shrine described what happened on the day of the attack, insisting on anonymity because he was afraid that talking to an American could get him killed. The general outline of his account was confirmed by American and Iraqi officials.
"The night before the explosion, he said, just before the 8 p.m. curfew on Feb. 21, 2006, on the Western calendar, men dressed in commando uniforms like those issued by the Interior Ministry entered the shrine.
"The caretaker said he had been beaten, tied up, and locked in a room.
"Throughout the night, he said, he could hear the sound of drilling as the attackers positioned the explosives, apparently in such a way as to inflict maximum damage on the dome.”
Clearly, if the men were men dressed in “commando uniforms like those issued by the Interior Ministry,” then the logical place to begin an investigation would be the Interior Ministry. But there's never been an investigation and the caretaker has never been asked to testify about what he saw on the night of the bombing. However, if he is telling the truth, we cannot exclude the possibility that paramilitary contractors (mercenaries) or special-ops (intelligence) agents working out of the Interior Ministry may have destroyed the mosque to create the appearance of a nascent civil war.
Isn’t that what Bush wants to divert attention from the occupation and to show that the real conflict is between Shiites and Sunnis?
It's unlikely that the mosque was destroyed by “Sunni insurgents or al-Qaeda,” as Bush claims. Samarra is predominantly a Sunni city and the Sunnis have nearly as much respect for the mosque as a cultural icon and sacred shrine as the Shiites.
The Times also adds, “What is clear is that the attack was carefully planned and calculated.”
True again. We can see from the extent of the damage that the job was carried out by demolition experts and not merely “insurgents or terrorists” with explosives. Simple forensic tests and soil samples could easily determine the composition of the explosives and point out the real perpetrators.
The Times even provides a motive for the attack: “Bad people used this incident to divide Iraq on a detestable sectarian basis.”
Bingo! The administration has repeatedly used the incident to highlight divisions, incite acrimony, and prolong the occupation.
Finally, the Times notes the similarities between 9-11 and the bombing of the Golden Mosque: “I can describe what was done as exactly like what happened to the World Trade Center.”
In fact, the bombing of the Golden Mosque is a reenactment of September 11. In both cases an independent investigation was intentionally quashed and carefully prepared narrative was immediately provided. The government’s version of events has been critical in supporting the extremist policies of the Bush administration.
Just as 9-11 has been used to justify the enhanced powers of the “unitary” president, the evisceration of civil liberties, and a permanent state of war; so too, the bombing of the Golden Mosque, has been used to create a fictional narrative of deeply ingrained sectarian animosity that has no historical precedent. Both events need to be exposed by thorough and independent investigations.
The Bush administration has consistently abandoned the limitations of “reality-based” politics. They govern through demagoguery, force, and deception. This is no different.
9-11 and the Golden Mosque are the foundation blocks in the Pentagon’s “Strategic Information” program. It is a war that is directed at the American people and it relies heavily on the power of myth.
Forewarned is forearmed.
ONE YEAR LATER, GOLDEN MOSQUE IS STILL IN RUINS
By Marc Santora
New York Times
February 13, 2007
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/13/world/middleeast/13samarra.html (registration required)
[PHOTO CAPTION: The Mosque of the Golden Dome in Samarra was bombed last February, unleashing a nationwide bloodbath between Shiites and Sunnis.]
SAMARRA, Iraq -- It has been a year since Sunni insurgents ripped a hole in the glorious dome here of one of Iraq’s most sacred Shiite shrines, shattering its 72,000 golden tiles and unleashing a tide of national sectarian bloodletting. Not a single brick of the mosque has been moved since.
There has been no rebuilding and no healing; the million annual pilgrims, and the prosperity they spread, are gone. The roads south to Baghdad and north to Tikrit are pocked with roadside bombs and fake checkpoints where travelers are abducted. The citizens of this Sunni city, who protected and took pride in the Shiite mosque for more than 1,000 years, say they want to lead the reconstruction, but Shiites will not hear of it.
And a proposal from the Shiite-led government to send thousands of Shiite troops to provide protection for a reconstruction project has been met with threats of bloodshed.
Symbols of political paralysis are everywhere in this country. But few have the potency of the blown-up Mosque of the Golden Dome, site of the graves of two of the figures most revered by Shiites, the 10th and 11th imams in a line of direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.
From the moment the shrine was destroyed, Iraqis -- already accustomed to extraordinary violence -- knew that life had taken an even darker turn. Within hours Shiite death squads sought bloody revenge, dozens of Sunni mosques were burned, and Sunni imams were dragged out into the street and killed.
[That terrible day, one year ago according to the Islamic lunar calendar, was commemorated by Shiites from Najaf to Basra on Monday. But even as they were observing the occasion with a moment of silence, bombs in busy Baghdad markets left at least 67 more people dead. There were no commemorations in Samarra, just the ever-present reminder of the mosque itself.]
Pieces of the blue and gold tiles that adorned the facade of the great mosque, formally known as the Askariya Shrine, where graceful Arabic script from the Koran praised God and peace, sit shattered in the empty courtyard.
There are continuing discussions about rebuilding the shrine, and the United Nations has been approached. The local Sunni tribal elders have put forth a plan to rebuild, but it is unlikely that Shiite religious and political leaders will trust them.
Both groups say reconstruction of the dome would be a powerful unifying force, a symbol of hope where hope is scarce. But any large-scale project remains complicated not only by the distrust between Sunnis and Shiites, but by the precarious security situation in Samarra itself, where a force of only about 300 national and local police officers is trying to control a city of about 100,000.
Some of men currently responsible for guarding the shrine, drawn from the nation’s Facilities Protection Services, are considered suspect, possibly infiltrated by Sunni militants, according to Americans and Iraqis.
The walls still stand, but the doors are locked, and no prayers are conducted there. Nearby shops are open but desolate.
Residents, for whom the mosque was a source of livelihood as well as pride, say they would like nothing more than to have it rebuilt. But they have no faith in the central government, fearing that Shiite politicians would use the reconstruction as an excuse to take control of the mosque.
Before the attack, more than a million Shiites streamed into the mosque each year, visiting the graves of the 10th and 11th Imams. They also came to honor Muhammad al-Mahdi, who became the 12th Imam when he was only 5 years old, in A.D. 872.
Shiites believe that it was here that the Mahdi was put into a state of divine hiddenness by God to protect his life. Shiites believe that the Mahdi will return at the end of days, at a time of chaos and destruction, to deliver perfect justice.
The graves, at the foot of a spiral staircase some 50 feet below ground, were not damaged in the explosion, a caretaker said. But the dome, the defining feature of the mosque, renovated in 1905, was ravaged.
Shiites rarely dare travel to the city now.
The Iraqi police have started constructing a sniper’s post on a roof across the street. When the Americans arrived Saturday to check up on the effort, it took less than 20 minutes for militants to begin attacking them. Bullets whizzed over the mosque and the American position.
A stray round hit a civilian standing at the shrine’s southern gate. An American medic pulled him to safety and treated his wound. The fight was brief, less than half an hour, with the militants finally scurrying away with the Americans in pursuit. But it was a reminder of how difficult it would be to secure the site for any major reconstruction project.
Samarra was untouched in the American-led invasion of 2003, but since then it has fallen to militants twice, only to be retaken in major American military operations.
The Americans, who try not to patrol too near the mosque, keep one base in the city. They acknowledge that if they leave any time soon, the militants will seize the city again.
The roads running south to Baghdad and north to Tikrit remain plagued by attacks, mostly with roadside bombs.
The government in Baghdad is discussing a plan to create a special brigade of 3,500 soldiers to secure the roadways and protect a team of workers who would rebuild the mosque. But if those soldiers are primarily Shiites they will not be welcome, Iraqi officials say.
“If they send Shiites from the south, they will be killed,” said Lt. Col. Abdul Jalil Hanni, the commander of the Iraqi police here. “They should make the brigade with people from Tikrit and Samarra,” he said. “Al Qaeda will still make trouble, but it can be done.”
Residents of Samarra, who are very careful with their words because militants still hold much of the power here, remain as devastated by the destruction as the Shiites.
“It was a catastrophe for Samarra and the Islamic world,” said Zuhair Majeed, 26, whose shop is at the foot of the shrine. “The shrine has been in Samarra for 1,200 years. It was the people of Samarra who protected it, reconstructed it and served it.”
But the people of Samarra also have chosen not to even clean the rubble from the site, because they believe that the real culprit in the bombing has yet to be found.
“You must know that the tribal leaders have not removed a single brick until now, in order not to change the crime scene,” said Sheik Qahtan Yahya al-Salim, the general secretary of the tribal sheiks’ council in Samarra.
Haitham al-Sabaa, of the Badri tribe, a former chicken farmer from Samarra, was the architect of the plan, American and Iraqi officials say. He has not been caught.
Before the war Mr. Sabaa was not particularly religious, old friends say, but joined Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia after the American invasion. They say he worked with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born Qaeda leader who was killed by American forces in Iraq last June.
Mr. Zarqawi explicitly wrote that attacking the apostate Shiites was integral to undermining the American occupation. Mr. Sabaa, the officials said, was hungry to prove himself in the Qaeda hierarchy and orchestrated the attack. “For him it was not about religion but about being a big man,” said one person, who recalled many a wild and drunken evening with Mr. Haitham before the invasion. He is now considered a “prince” in the Qaeda structure in Iraq, American and Iraqi officials said.
Many residents here have come to believe an alternative version of how the attack occurred, blaming Iranian agents and pointing to the fact that the attackers were wearing commando uniforms. But there is no evidence to support that theory.
What is clear is that the attack was carefully planned and calculated.
A caretaker at the shrine described what happened on the day of the attack, insisting on anonymity because he was afraid that talking to an American could get him killed. The general outline of his account was confirmed by American and Iraqi officials.
The night before the explosion, he said, just before the 8 p.m. curfew on Feb. 21, 2006, on the Western calendar, men dressed in commando uniforms like those issued by the Interior Ministry entered the shrine.
The caretaker said he had been beaten, tied up, and locked in a room.
Throughout the night, he said, he could hear the sound of drilling as the attackers positioned the explosives, apparently in such a way as to inflict maximum damage on the dome. Many Sunnis in Samarra say they remain as pained by the shrine’s destruction as the world’s Shiites. “I still feel sad despite the passing of a year,” said Abu Hameed al-Samaraee, 43, a teacher.
“I can describe what was done as exactly like what happened to the World Trade Center,” he said. “Bad people used this incident to divide Iraq on a detestable sectarian basis.”