Beginning of the end
Terrorists’ propaganda takes hit in Iraq
Posted : Thursday Aug 21, 2008 18:49:14 EDT
WASHINGTON — Military successes in Iraq have nearly crippled al-Qaida’s ability to produce battlefield propaganda, hampering for now its ability to recruit fighters and raise money, the U.S. military and analysts say.
The amount of Web statements and videos attributed to the main al-Qaida group in Iraq fell to 12 in May from more than 200 in May 2007, according to SITE Intelligence Group, an independent organization that tracks terrorist Web activity.
Air Force Col. Scott Maw, a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, described al-Qaida’s propaganda operations in Iraq as “severely degraded.”
Terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida have proved resourceful in the past and have quickly adapted to setbacks, however.
While publicity material linked to Iraq has been declining, the Taliban in Afghanistan have been increasing their presence on the Web in recent months.
There were more than 100 Taliban statements on terrorist-affiliated forums in May, up from about 24 in May 2007, according to SITE. The Taliban’s propaganda is not as professional as the material produced by al-Qaida in Iraq, which is “more polished and has superior production values,” said Rita Katz, director of SITE.
Insurgents have been careful to film most of their attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces over the years, ensuring they get wide distribution on the Internet. The videos had become a staple on terrorist-affiliated Web sites.
The publicity helps prove to financial contributors that the groups are effective and also aids recruiting.
The decline in al-Qaida publicity in Iraq is largely a reflection of broad successes in disrupting the organization.
The U.S. military also has been able to specifically target al-Qaida’s propaganda cells — in addition to other networks — as U.S. intelligence has improved in recent years.
The cells are responsible for producing videos, statements and training films.
Last month, operations directed against propaganda cells in Iraq resulted in the killing or capture of 11 cell members and the seizure of more than 800 gigabytes of data, Maw said. The data include videos, propaganda fliers, speeches and instruction manuals.
The decline in violence and reduction in publicity material has also moderated the way Iraq is covered on Arab news stations, such as Al-Jazeera, which had been criticized by the Bush administration for its coverage early in the war.
Arab satellite news channels have shifted their coverage away from violence toward more stories on Iraqi politics and other subjects, said Ramez Maluf, a professor at Lebanese American University in Beirut and an expert on Arab news channels.
Iraq’s government is now viewed with more legitimacy in the Arab news media, which has helped broaden the coverage, Maluf said.
“The one thing that is visible is the increasing treatment of Iraq and the Iraqi government as a reality,” Maluf said.
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