Friday, April 20, 2007

Information War: Mass Murder and the Media

An interesting thing happened on Monday, April 16, Iraq, Afghanistan, suicide bombings and terrorists disappeared from the headlines for two days in the wake of a national tragedy. On Friday, April 12, Islamic terrorists managed to set off a small suicide bomb inside the parliament killing eight people and wounding many others. In the scheme of death and destruction usually perpetrated in Iraq by the terrorists, it was only remarkable due to the location.

The weekend news cycle played this event over and over. Friday "announcements" have two purposes in politics.

    1) To make the "statement" irrefutable for two days while all principal opposing actors would be going home or doing something else for the weekend.
    2) Make the story THE story for the weekend as weekend news is notorious for doing "soft pieces" and simply repeating a summary of the weekly news for consumption, thus insuring continuous play that would also be the opening statement for the next week.

To put out a message at the end of the week when many are heading home, such as politicians and Pentagon spokesmen who might answer back forefully and continuously any impression of such an "announcement" by the terrorists. If it was at the beginning of the week, many interviews could be given throughout the week refuting any claims of a larger meaning to the attacks. It would also have seen the Iraqi Parliament back in session at full force for several days before the week was out, further weakening the impression that the bombing interrupted any significant activities of the Iraq government. By making the bombing on Friday, it would be understood that this story would be replayed through the weekend as the last image of the war.

Yet, weekend news consumption is notoriously low among most of the target audience, thus, important messages are often lost in the weekend frenzy.

On Monday, April 16, the incident, al Qaeda and Iraq were pushed completely off the front page by a mass murder at Virginia Tech. For two days, the internal tragedy took precedence.

In a war where one of the principle players states, "half the battle is in the media", that lack of coverage had to be a minor shock. They could easily be replaced by a lone gunman in Virginia.

Yet, Al Qaeda in Iraq (the Islamic State of Iraq) understands its target implicity. In order to insure coverage would win back the battle space from the tragedy, the terrorists would have to plan and come back with a much larger attack and body account. After what must have been several days of planning, the deaths of 200 innocent people again swept Iraq and Al Qaeda to the headlines.

Greyhawk notes that it was also timed with the return of Congress from their spring break.

It may be that the bombings and damage were simply coincidental or it could be that the time between the previous attack on Parliament and this latest massacre was used to plan and execute the attacks. However, it is not unusual for al Qaeda operatives to plan events or "announcements around important dates or events.

Whatever the facts, it did result in pushing the VT tragedy from the front page of the news cycle.

This is how Al Qaeda fights its wars.

On cue, Reid pronounces the war is lost.

In a further attempt to maximize its media exposure and attempt to paint the insurgency as "legitimate", the Islamic State of Iraq appoints "ministers" for everything from "war" to "agriculture and health". The entire purpose is to indicate that, far from a weak and hidden group of skulkers and criminals in limited areas, they actually have control of an area and are able to govern it, complete with concern for the people and the area's economics.

Unfortunately for the Islamic State of Iraq, it's borders are unknown, its ministers wear masks and will not be giving an interview on CNN or even al Jazeera anytime soon.

MSNBC provides an excellent analysis of ISI's hopes from the announcement:

The announcement unveiling an “Islamic Cabinet” for Iraq appeared to have multiple aims. One was to present the Islamic State of Iraq coalition as a “legitimate” alternative to the U.S.-backed, Shiite-led administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — and to demonstrate that it was growing in power despite the U.S. military push against insurgents.

It also likely sought to establish the coalition’s dominance among insurgents after an embarrassing public dispute with other Iraqi Sunni militants. [snip]

The video came on the heels of a rare public dispute between the coalition and other insurgent groups.

In past week, another Sunni insurgent group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, has issued statements accusing al-Qaida of killing its members and trying to force others to join its ranks. Al-Baghdadi tried to patch up the dispute by issuing a Web audiotape this week calling for unity and promising to punish any of his group’s members who kill other insurgents.

Al Qaeda aims and lands another dead on target.

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