WASHINGTON - The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to overstate the threat to stability posed by the al Qaeda leader in Iraq, The Washington Post reported on Monday.
Some senior military intelligence officers believe the importance of the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may have been exaggerated, the newspaper reported, citing military documents and officers familiar with the program.
Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is seen in this undated file photo. The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to overstate the threat to stability posed by the al Qaeda leader in Iraq, The Washington Post reported on Monday. REUTERS/Petra/File photo
According to the article, Col. Derek Harvey, who served as a military intelligence officer in Iraq, told a U.S. Army meeting last summer: "Our own focus on Zarqawi has enlarged his caricature, if you will -- made him more important than he really is, in some ways."
"The long-term threat is not Zarqawi or religious extremists, but these former regime types and their friends," Harvey said in a transcript of the meeting at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the Post reported.
Harvey said at the meeting that, while Zarqawi and other foreign insurgents in Iraq have carried out deadly bombing attacks, they remain "a very small part of the actual numbers," according to the newspaper.
Largely aimed at Iraqis, the Zarqawi campaign began two years ago and was believed to be ongoing, the Post said. It has included leaflets, radio and television broadcasts and at least one leak to an American journalist, the newspaper said.
Another military officer familiar with the program told the newspaper that the material was all in Arabic. But the officer said the Zarqawi campaign "probably raised his profile in the American press's view," the report said.
Zarqawi has a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head.
Officers familiar with the propaganda program were cited as saying that one goal was to drive a wedge into the insurgency by emphasizing Zarqawi's terrorist acts and foreign origin.
"Villainize Zarqawi/leverage xenophobia response," a U.S. military briefing document from 2004 stated, the Post reported.
© Reuters 2006