WASHINGTON — In Iraq, the United States is pounding the Islamic State with air strikes but losing the airwaves.
Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed said Thursday that 80 percent of the news media in Iraq is directly or indirectly controlled by Iranian or Shia Muslim entities. That means the U.S. is getting little credit helping the Iraqi government become more stable and defeat IS militants, he said.
"The popular media is significantly influenced by Shia and Iranian opinion," Reed, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, told reporters. "That tends to minimize our contributions and that, I think, we should correct."
Reed just returned from a trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Djibouti.
There is "universal disdain" in Iraq for the Islamic State, according to Reed. But the messaging failure needs to be corrected so Iraqis understand the broader goals the U.S., its allies and Iraq are working toward, he said.
Winning the information campaign will affect a political effort in Iraq that goes beyond beating the Sunni extremist group, Reed said. It involves the ultimate shape of the Iraqi government and its ability to include various sectarian groups into a workable arrangement. The context for those conversations is set by the media, which affects how people think and feel.
"And that shouldn't be left to just chance," Reed said. "I think we should be in there very thoughtfully, trying to get our message through."
The U.S. has to be careful not to come on too strong and appear to be conducting a publicity campaign, Reed said. "That's discounted immediately by the people as, 'Oh, that's just propaganda,'" he said.
Reed said he is optimistic that a retooled effort by the State Department to counter messaging by the Islamic State and other extremist groups will have an impact.
The department's new Global Engagement Center will be headed by Michael Lumpkin, who has been serving as the assistant secretary of defense for special operations.
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