OPINION: Desperate PR measures reflect progress of war

With the war battle strategy not exactly going to plan, the PR war has definitely hotted up.

Even the very idea that things aren't going as well as the Americans had thought has been the subject of a bitter war of words, although that particular skirmish hardly seems worth fighting, given that there are enough US generals willing to admit that the allies have been 'bogged down'.

My judgement on how well the war is going is based on how desperate the protagonists are in pursuing their message. When dead troops are used in the PR battle then you know things are really bad. The Prime Minister and his advisers saw the chance of a major propaganda coup when it was suggested that two British squaddies had been 'executed' by Iraqi troops.

The only real evidence for this assertion was film on the Arab TV cable network Al Jazeera, which showed pictures of the dead soldiers. These TV shots, still unseen by Western viewers, no doubt outraged most right thinking people, but that was no excuse for Tony Blair to publicly claim they had been executed, no matter how good a PR opportunity it was.

The Prime Minister summoned up all his renowned acting skills in making his condemnation of the alleged execution, which he naturally used as an excuse to justify the war. When it became apparent in the anti-war Daily Mirror that the dead soldiers' families had in fact been told they had died in combat, Number 10, instead of apologising, turned their fire on the media for 'harassing' dead soldiers' families. This clearly signalled that Downing Street is prepared to fight dirty. They are now inevitably engaged in encouraging the absurd claims of BBC anti-war bias in some sections of the press.

The Government's response to the tragic death of up to 50 innocent Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad market was an example of Number 10 being prepared to go to almost any length to put the blame on the Iraqis themselves.

Political hacks - being more gullible than most - were briefed by Downing Street that they had 'intelligence reports' that Saddam had sacked his defence chief because of the failure of their missiles. This, the spin-doctors said, was evidence that it was actually an Iraqi missile that had killed the shoppers in the market, and had nothing to do with the Americans bombing Baghdad. Alastair Campbell and his team know that the great thing about so-called 'intelligence reports' is that they can never be disproved. In this case though, Downing Street is insulting our intelligence.

A much more intelligent PR scam was the sending in of the HMS Sir Gallahad full of food and water for the people of Iraq. Aid workers may be furious that British solders are doing the distribution of the contents of the ship, but there is no way the Government was going to pass over this public relations exercise.

One unplanned PR coup for Blair last week was the ill-thought-out comments of Robin Cook. He wrote in the Sunday Mirror: "I want our troops home, and I want them home before more of them are killed." Given that Cook had written the words himself, he had trouble explaining them away later on Sunday.

Up until his statement, the mainstream anti-war bodies had kept quiet, knowing that with British troops risking their lives, it would take time for public opinion to turn around decisively against the war. Robin Cook spoke out too early and he knows it, which is why he rowed back so quickly.

The damage had been done though, and as a result Blair has neutralised a very dangerous opponent.

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