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Home > War On Terror

House Of Cards

Playing a crafty game: the Pentagon's pack of Iraqi playing cards.

28 April 2003

Americans have arrested top baddie General Hossam Mohammed Amin. Here's how CNN reports the arrest:

Amin was No. 49 on the Pentagon's list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis and the 13th to be taken into custody. His image appeared on the six of clubs in the deck of cards issued to help coalition troops identify wanted Iraqis.

What we have here is a "news story" so enveloped in spin that it's practically turned into fairytale. This whole 'evil Iraqi card pack' business is yet another brilliant piece of US PR. The Pentagon plays this game so well: just think of the 'Chemical Ali' tag (a great name, which made the the sheep-brained media say the word "Chemical Chemical Chemical Chemical" over and over and over). And here again, with the pack of cards, the military have given lazy journalists a way of reporting a story in a fun way (and a way which suits their propaganda purposes: the cards are an exercise in reductionism - the Iraqi baddies are cartooned, reduced to 'Mr Bun the Baker' status, and the might of the US is reinforced in the idea that they are merely 'playing' with these foreigners).

So what about the idea that these cards were designed "to help coalition troops identify wanted Iraqis". Well, obviously this is a nonsense statement. It's total, unabashed rubbish. (Quite apart from anything else, about a quarter of the wanted Iraqis are represented by a silhouette only. What are the Marines meant to do? Stand suspects behind a back-lit curtain?) But this is the official line (the cards have been issued "to ease identification when contact does occur" said General Brooks himself) and the media have lapped it up:

"...the Defense Intelligence Agency, which printed and distributed 200 decks to coalition troops to help them with identification."

"...distributed to US commanders to help them identify former associates of the now ousted president Saddam Hussein."

"Al-Najim is the four of clubs in the 55-deck U.S. troops are using to help identify Iraqi officials"

"Want a deck of those cool Iraqi Most Wanted playing cards issued to help U.S. Special Operations forces identify enemy leaders in the field?"

etc. etc. etc.

And, like all the truly great pieces of PR, the playing cards idea has chimed with the public consciousness, and the trade in replica packs is booming.

Weirdly, by far the best description of the 'most wanted' playing cards that I could find anywhere was on a site selling the packs wholesale:

"The cards were made up by wags at the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is on the hunt for the depicted characters."

This blurb on the OrderBulk website actually derives from an article by Tom Zucco in the St.Petersburg Times; but whereas Tom goes on to spew out the official line: "The cards can do more than help identify fugitive Iraqi leaders. They can also be a morale booster..." (etc. etc.) OverBulk keeps its blurb trimmed to a minimum, and as a consequence provides a genuinely balanced and apt description of the playing cards. Ironic, since all they were doing was lazily stealing text from an article which was lazily pattering out the Pentagon spin.

Lazy lazy lazy.

Laziness: without it, spin simply wouldn't work.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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