In a third installment of Ministry of Truth, War on the Rocks contributor Samuel Helfont details recent insights into Saddam Hussein’s “political” operations, which sought to influence internal politics of other states to help Iraq achieve its strategic goals.
According to archives of the Iraqi Ba‘th Party that have recently become available, Iraqi Ba‘thists carried out espionage, planted stories in the foreign press, established overt and covert relations with various parties, and attempted to silence anyone who disrupted their preferred political narrative. Iraq’s internal documents describe the success of these operations in the 1980s-1990s, but also their limitations. Influence operations do not operate in a vacuum. Like other aspects of national power, if they are not employed in accordance with broader geopolitical realities, they will likely fall flat.
As an example, Dr. Helfont points to a declassified 2001 report from the British Joint Intelligence Council, asserting that the Iraqi regime garnered sympathy, especially in the Arab World, by “maintaining the illusion that UN sanctions inflict suffering on the Iraqi people.” The regime began rebuilding economic and diplomatic ties. The report argued that “Saddam judges his position to be the strongest since the Gulf War.” It described him as “defiant” and “secure.”
Dr. Helfont writes: “Of course, the assessment of British intelligence in the July 2001 report was out of date less than two months later when the 9/11 attacks transformed global politics. Consequently Iraq found itself a target in the Bush Administration’s “war on terrorism”, and although influence operations can be effective they are no match for a militarily superior power that is willing to go to war.”
His final statement is worth noting. At this particularly pivotal time in information warfare, how long will this be true?
For further details, do read the fascinating piece in War on the Rocks.