Fact SheetIraqi Disinformation: Allegations and Facts

February 4, 1991
United States Information Agency
Washington, D.C.

The following fact sheet on Iraqi disinformation was prepared by the U.S. Information Agency and issued on February 4, 1991.

Iraq is vigorously spreading disinformation about the combat situation in the Persian Gulf. These charges usually originate in Iraqi media and have been widely and often uncritically repeated by sympathetic media in Yemen, Algeria, Tunisia, and Jordan, by the Palestine Liberation organization, and, to a lesser extent, by media in Pakistan, Morocco, Mauritania, Bangladesh, Sudan, and other countries. Iraqi ambassadors and embassy spokesmen have also made blatant disinformation claims in media appearances worldwide.

Some disinformation stories surface as covert media plants, such as a false story in the Pakistani Markaz newspaper on January 16. It falsely claimed that Pakistani soldiers in the multinational force had turned on U.S. soldiers, killing 72 of them, with five Pakistanis dying in the exchange. On January 18, Islamabad radio reported that the Pakistani government had decided to expel the Iraqi embassy press counselor for "activities incompatible with his diplomatic status," including inciting protest demonstrations, and "providing financial assistance for the publication of propaganda materials against the state." Early in the conflict, Radio Monte Carlo in Arabic broadcast several disinformation stories.

Iranian media have also repeated many Iraqi disinformation claims, and added some of their own. Iranian sponsorship of false charges may give them added credibility with some audiences because Iran was Iraq's bitter adversary until recently. Cuba and the Soviet Union have also circulated Iraqi disinformation claims.

Disinformation is a cheap, crude, and often very effective way to inflame public opinions and affect attitudes. It involves the deliberate spreading of falsehoods by a government for a political purpose. Disinformation differs fundamentally from misinformation, unintentional errors which occur when facts are unclear and deadline pressures urgent.

Disinformation is also predictable. As expected, Iraq's disinformation campaigns have tried to make it appear, falsely, that:

  • Iraq is strong and the multinational coalition is weak;
  • Israel is part of the multinational coalition;
  • Allied forces are committing crimes against Islam and atrocities in general;
  • The United States is at odds with various countries in the coalition.


Alleged Iraqi Military Victories

False claim: Iraq falsely claims to have downed more than 200 coalition planes, "scores" of cruise missiles, and recovered some cruise missiles which "did not explode and which will be used." One report even claimed that a U.S. aircraft carrier had been destroyed. There have been false claims of hundreds of allied soldiers captured and thousands killed.

Truth: Iraqi claims have been roughly ten times the actual number of aircraft downed in combat. When the Iraqis were claiming 14 planes down, the actual count was 2. When they were claiming 44 down, the actual count was 4. When they were claiming 94, the actual count was 8. When Iraq claimed 160, the actual number down was 14.

During the first 5 days of the conflict, Iraq released figures for total numbers of coalition aircraft allegedly shot down, culminating in a total of 178 on January 21. After that, Iraq became reluctant to release aggregate figures, instead switching to a format of claiming that a certain number of "air targets" (aircraft and missiles) were downed each day. The absurdity of Iraq's alleged figures of total coalition aircraft downed may have prompted it to back away from giving aggregate figures for their claims.

Deliberate Bombing of Civilians

False claim: The multinational force is deliberately bombing residential areas, cultural sites, hospitals, and religious shrines in Iraq, including those in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

Truth: As Lieutenant General Charles Horner, commander of the U.S. Central Command Air Forces stated on January 18, "one of the strongest guidances we have had from the very start was to avoid any damage to civilian targets and to the holy shrines located in Iraq." On January 17, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell stated that 20 percent of the aircraft attacking Iraq returned without dropping their ordinance because of weather problems, mechanical problems, or "because of the very tight control we had over the aircraft they did not make the kind of positive identification of the target that we required before going in and launching under the rules of engagement to minimize collateral civilian damage." On January 27, CENTCOM commander General Schwarzkopf said, "We've stated all along that we're being absolutely as careful as we can not only in the way we are going about executing our air campaign, but in the type of armament we' re using. We're using the appropriate weapon against the appropriate targets. We're being very, very careful in our direction of attacks to avoid damage of any kind to civilian installations. It's going to happen. It is absolutely going to happen; there's no question about it. But we're doing everything we can to prevent it."

In contrast to the policy of the multinational coalition, Iraq has deliberately targeted civilian sites in Saudi Arabia and Israel in what President Bush called, with regard to the attack on Israel, "a terroristic attack against the population centers ... with no military design whatsoever."

Israeli Participation in the Coalition

False claim: This false claim has been made in several ways. Iraq has claimed that 64 Israeli aircraft have flown to Saudi Arabia and are participating in the multinational force's actions against Iraq. It has also been alleged that 142 Israeli pilots are flying missions for the coalition. A third false charge claims that Israeli aircraft are bombing Iraq from bases in Turkey. Another alleges that 54 Israeli aircraft using radio frequencies assigned to the United States participated in the initial bombardment of Iraq on January 16.

The most recent versions focus on ground warfare. An article in the Jordanian newspaper Al-Dustur on January 27 falsely claimed that high-ranking Israeli officials and generals are in Saudi Arabia "coordinating ground attack plans for the American forces." On January 27, a PLO official claimed that Israel would attack Iraq with ground troops through Jordan when coalition ground operations begin.

Further variations on the "Israeli involvement" theme should be expected. They have been a constant theme of Iraqi disinformation since August 8, 1990.

Truth: On January 18, Saudi Arabia officially denied that Israeli aircraft had flown to Saudi Arabia. On January 20, Israel's ambassador to the United States, Zolman Shoval, denied that Israel had bombed Iraq. Similarly, both the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israeli mission in Turkey have described the phony claim about Israeli planes in Turkey as "part of a serious disinformation campaign." On January 28, the Saudis once again categorically denied that any Israeli aircraft have joined the allied forces.

"Baby Milk" Claims

On January 21, the Iraqi News Agency falsely claimed that the multinational force had bombed an infant formula factory near Baghdad. Two days later, the reporter for the Cable News Network (CNN), working under Iraqi censorship, broadcast this Iraqi claim. In fact, the building contained a biological warfare site. U.S. CENTCOM spokesman Colonel Gallagher stated on January 23, "this facility... has military guards around it, barbed-wire fence, it has a military garrison outside. Numerous sources have indicated that the facility is associated with biological warfare production." General Colin Powell said, "It is not an infant formula plant. It was a biological weapons facility - of that we are sure." White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater added, "The Iraqis have hidden this facility behind a facade of baby milk production as a form of disinformation." U.S. CENTCOM Commander General Schwarzkopf noted on January 27, "when we went after that facility we went after it in a precision way, [and] damaged only that part of that facility that... was a research facility for biological warfare." The Iraqi Ministry of Information took several reporters on a tour of the alleged site on February 1.

False claims about the "baby milk" theme have been a staple of Iraqi propaganda and disinformation since early September 1990. During December 1990, the Iraqi Health Minister falsely claimed that U.N. sanctions prevented milk and medicine from being shipped to Iraq, thereby causing 1,416 deaths among Iraqi children less than five years old (he soon raised the number to 2,042). In fact, there are no restrictions on shipping medicine to Iraq and food shipments for humanitarian purposes are also allowed under U.N. procedures, which Iraq has refused to follow.

In a later twist on the "baby milk" theme, the New York Times reported on January 31 that Iran had asked the United Nations for permission to send powdered milk and baby formula to Iraq under the supervision of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. As explained below, Iran has eagerly repeated many of Iraq's propaganda and disinformation claims.

Alleged "clashes" between U.S. and Muslim coalition forces

There have been several versions of this story. As mentioned above, a version that surfaced on January 16 falsely alleged clashes between U.S. and Pakistani troops. This was immediately denied by CENTCOM and on January 27 the Pakistani Interservice Public Relations Directorate issued a statement describing this story as "baseless and concocted."

On January 22, the Iranian news agency falsely claimed that 100 soldiers were killed in a clash between "American troops and armies of Moslem countries" near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. This story was repeated the same day by the Cuban news service Prensa Latina, thereby circulating it throughout Latin America. It was also reported in Tunisian newspapers on January 23.

On January 28, leaflets distributed in Bangladesh by the Council of Islamic Revolutionaries of Bangladesh contained the following disinformation: "According to a broadcast from Teheran radio, American and British troops have opened fire on Bangladeshi soldiers in Saudi Arabia because they refused to take part in the attack against Iraq. As a result, several hundred Bangladeshi soldiers have been killed, many injured and all of them have been disarmed. Our demands to the government are: (a) the actual facts be revealed immediately, (b) the remaining Bangladeshi soldiers be brought back home on an emergency basis and (c) the British and American troops who killed the Bangladeshi soldiers be put on open trial."

The address of the "Permanent Publicity Office for War-related News and Saddam Supporters" was at the bottom of the leaflet.

On January 30, the Pakistani newspaper Jidat cited Afghan Press international as the source of a story that claimed, falsely, that 26 U.S. and British soldiers had died in a fight that erupted after a British soldier slapped a drunk American officer who had ordered him to dig a trench.

On January 31, Radio Baghdad falsely claimed that U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia "have opened fire on the Moroccan forces deployed there," with several Moroccans allegedly killed. The disinformation line was that "this American measure was taken because a large number of the Moroccan armed forces... have refused to participate in the military operations against Iraq." The same day, the Moroccan Press Agency reported that "sources close to the Moroccan Information Ministry in Rabat have categorically denied these claims, which come within the framework of a venomous campaign to distort the reason for the presence of Moroccan soldiers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

Iraqi Forgery

Guerre du Golfe: Le Dossier Secret, a recently published book in France by former White House press secretary Pierre Salinger and co-author Eric Laurent cites an Iraqi forgery as if it might be a genuine document. Excerpts from the book were published in the Algerian press in late January.

The Iraqi forgery first surfaced in late October 1990, when the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations submitted what he claimed was a "top secret" memorandum from Brigadier Al Fahd, the director-general of Kuwait's State Security Department, to the Kuwaiti Minister of the Interior, describing a meeting the security chief supposedly had with CIA Director William Webster in November 1989. Among other charges, the purported Kuwaiti document stated, "We agreed with the American side that it was important to take advantage of the deteriorating economic situation in Iraq in order to put pressure on that country's government to delineate our common border." In an accompanying letter, Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz charged that the alleged Kuwaiti document "confirms the connivance between the United States Central Intelligence Service and the intelligence services of the former Kuwaiti government in plotting against Iraq' s national security, territorial integrity, and national economy."

The Salinger and Laurent book mentions this alleged document on page 65. It says: "A strange document dating back to November 22, 1989 and which would have been discovered by the Iraqis (and which has not been denied by the Kuwaiti government in exile nor the American government) sheds a surprising light on the current crisis. This document was a memorandum written by Fahd Hakmad Al Fahd, the director of the State Security service, and addressed to the Minister of the Interior."

The book then goes on to quote from the forgery and reproduces it in full as an appendix.

When they wrote the book, the authors were unaware that the document in question had been immediately labeled as a fabrication by the U.S. and Kuwaiti governments. On October 30, 1990, CIA spokesman Peter Earnest released an official statement saying: "Neither Brigadier Al-Fahd, Director General of Kuwaiti State Security, nor Colonel Shadad, called on Judge Webster, the Director of Central Intelligence, as stated in the document reportedly sent by the Iraqi Foreign minister to the U.N. Secretary General.... Those statements in the document, purported to be from the United States side or Kuwaiti State Security, are total fabrications and without foundation."

On October 27, Kuwaiti Foreign minister Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Perez de Cuellar in which he denounced the purported document as containing "falsehoods and groundless lies." He also pointed out that "besides linguistic expressions which have never been used in Kuwait... its style differs from that used between Kuwaiti officials."

The "Sea Island" Oil Spill

The Iraqis have made a feeble disinformation attempt to blame the United States for the oil spill they created at Kuwait's Sea Island Terminal, a claim which has been largely ignored by the world press. U.S. CENTCOM Commander General Schwarzkopf has made it clear that Iraq is entirely at fault for this ecological disaster. On January 27, he stated, "We have gone back and checked all of our military operations between the time when we last looked at this oil buoy when nothing was coming out, which was approximately the 16th, and the 24th, at the time we found the situation [the oil spill]. I can tell you that we see absolutely no indication at all, no indication at all, that any U.S. military action caused this to happen."

Saudis Allegedly Kill Imam

On January 29, Radio Baghdad and the Iraqi News Agency falsely claimed that Saudi police had killed "the Imam of the Grand Mosque in Riyadh and his brother" because in his Friday sermon the Imam had allegedly called for "jihad and for killing the Sa'ud family instead of Iraqi Muslims." The Iraqi report was sourced to the Jordanian newspaper Shihan. On January 30, it was reported in the Algerian newspapers Horizons and Al-Masa and in The Hindustan Times and The Statesman in India.

On January 30, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) quoted a statement by a Saudi government "authoritative source" in which he said the report is totally false and that it shows the willingness of the media in Algeria and Jordan to carry Iraqi "paid propaganda" without investigation. The statement notes that at the moment there is no "grand mosque" in Riyadh because it has been torn down as part of an urban renewal project and will be rebuilt, adding that its Imam is living at the palace of the Riyadh governor Prince Batman as an honored guest. The allegedly slain Imam called the Saudi newspaper Ukaz on January 29 to confirm that he was alive and well.

Other Iraqi Disinformation Claims:

  • American pop star Madonna is in Saudi Arabia, entertaining U.S. troops (Inqilab newspaper in Pakistan, January 27).
  • Western soldiers killed during the gulf war are "evacuated from Saudi Arabia to Djibouti in British planes and in a second step... to Crete island where they are secretly buried" (Algerian Press Service, January 29).
  • Israeli authorities are "gathering thousands of Palestinian detainees and prisoners to be used as human shields to protect the Dimona nuclear reactor" in the Negev desert from Iraqi missile attacks. (Jordanian newspaper Al-Dustur, January 29).
  • Iraqi missiles have hit the Israeli Defense Ministry and have turned Tel Aviv into a "ghost town," allegedly according to a "British correspondent." (Iraqi News Agency INA, January 20). More than 1,000 Israelis have been killed and 2,500 wounded by Iraqi SCUD missile attacks (Iraqi charge d'affaires cited in Argentine newspaper La Nacion, January 20). Iraqi SCUDs have hit a nuclear research center in Israel, while U.S. Patriot missiles have failed to intercept the SCUDs several times (Radio Baghdad, February 4).
  • Iraqi SCUD missiles have extensively damaged "American bases" in Riyadh and Dhahran (Radio Baghdad, Yemen TV, January 21).
  • Iraq has killed 6,000 allied troops (Iraqi-financed Inqilab newspaper in Bangladesh, January 20).
  • The Saudi royal family has fled to Morocco (Al-Ra'yi newspaper in Jordan and Ech Churuq newspaper in Tunisia, January 21.) This claim was derided as "absolutely untrue" by an official Saudi spokesman in a statement to the Saudi Press Agency on the same day. The Moroccan government has also denied the claim. A similar disinformation story falsely claimed that "25,000 Saudis, including key figures, have sought refuge in Yemen." (INA, January 22).
  • There have been mutinies among Egyptian, Syrian and Saudi troops in the multinational coalition (Algerian radio, January 21; Tunisian newspaper As-Shorouq, January 22).
  • Three allied aircraft have landed on Iraqi airfields and surrendered to Iraqi forces (Jordanian newspaper Sawt al-Sha'b, January 23).
  • Turkey has launched missiles at Iraq (Radio Baghdad, January 21). This claim was immediately denied by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
  • The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan has pressured the Pakistani government to allow the use of Mauripur air base in the gulf crisis (Jassarat newspaper in Pakistan, January 18). Three days later, it was falsely reported that B-52 raids were being launched from Pakistan.
  • Israeli planes disguised with Iraqi markings are planning to attack Turkey, Syria and Egypt in order to try to draw them into the fighting (INA, Algerian radio, January 18).
  • There was an "almost successful" coup in Egypt last week (Radio Baghdad, January 16), or, alternatively, massive pro-Saddam Hussein demonstrations in Cairo (Radio Monte Carlo, January 17).
  • U.S. naval commandos have hijacked a Bangladeshi merchant ship in the Arabian sea (Sangbad newspaper in Dhaka, January 17).
  • U.S. intelligence is planning to assassinate the Saudi crown prince (Radio Baghdad, January 15).

Other Sponsors of Disinformation

Other countries are repeating Iraq's disinformation claims and manufacturing some of their own, particularly Iran. Iran has repeated many false Iraqi claims and also apparently invented some disinformation claims of its own, including the one mentioned above about supposed clashes between U.S. and Muslim troops. Iranian media have also falsely claimed that:

  • "More than 5,000 British and U.S. forces" were killed in the first two days of the war (Abrar newspaper, January 19);
  • During the first day of the war, Iraq attacked Dhahran, Saudi Arabia with missiles "every half hour," and set several Saudi oil platforms on fire (IRNA, January 17).

Pro-Iranian Shi'ite leader Ayatollah Mohammed al-Mudaressi has claimed that 100,000 Iraqi civilians were killed or wounded in the first 4 days of the war, including 30,000 civilians. This outlandish charge was reported by the London Press Association on January 21 and in the Chilean newspaper La Epoca on January 23.

As mentioned before, Cuba replayed the "U.S.-Muslim clashes" story. In addition, the Patriot, an Indian newspaper set up by the KGB in 1962, repeated Iraqi claims of Israeli involvement in the war on January 24. On January 23, it falsely claimed that Turkey "is planning to seize northern Iraq with its oilfields," alleging "it is apparent that the United States is encouraging Turkey in its imperialist ambitions." This claim appears to have been originated by the Soviets.

On January 17, the Cairo correspondent for Radio Monte Carlo falsely reported that Egypt had asked the United States for a cease-fire in Iraq, a claim that was immediately denied by the Egyptian government.

Past Iraqi Disinformation

Iraq has engaged in a constant barrage of disinformation since it invaded Kuwait on August 2.

Initially, immediately after the invasion, Iraq falsely claimed its forces would soon withdraw from Kuwait.

In early August, as multinational forces began to arrive in the gulf, Iraqi disinformation attacked their presence, falsely claiming that:

  • Israeli forces, disguised as Americans, were part of the multinational force;
  • U.S. troops were defiling the Muslim holy places in Saudi Arabia;
  • The Pentagon had sent thousands of Egyptian women to the gulf to serve as prostitutes for U.S. forces;
  • Saudis opposed to the U.S. presence were killing U.S. soldiers and sabotaging U.S. military equipment;
  • AIDS was rampant among U.S. forces in the region;
  • U.S. forces were dumping nuclear waste in the Saudi desert.

In September, October and November, the Iraqis focused on maligning U.S., Kuwaiti and Saudi motives, falsely claiming that:

  • Iraqi forces moved into Kuwait to prevent an imminent U.S. takeover of that country;
  • The United States and other countries would have moved their forces into the gulf even if Iraq had not invaded Kuwait;
  • The United States and Kuwait had jointly plotted to destabilize Iraq in 1989;
  • Saudi leaders were drinking alcohol at U.S. military bases;
  • The United States was confiscating Saudi oil;
  • The United States was erecting hundreds of churches in Saudi Arabia.

A forgery released by the Iraqis at the United Nations (mentioned above) and Iraqi-forged letters published in the Nigerian press were used to try to bolster these claims.

The current phase of Iraqi disinformation relating to hostilities was foreshadowed on December 31 when the An-Nahar newspaper in Israel falsely claimed that American military personnel had plotted with Saudi officials to attack 'Al Ka'aba' in Mecca with a rocket bearing Iraqi markings, planning to use this incident as a pretext to attack Iraq.

Possible Future Iraqi Disinformation

Given their past record, possible future Iraqi disinformation claims may charge that:

  • U.S. and other forces are using chemical, biological and nuclear weapons;
  • U.S. forces are cynically using Arab and Islamic forces within the coalition as cannon fodder.

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