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UMM QASR, Iraq — U.S. Army Spc. Timothy Wones and Sgt. Brian Mathias are on the front line when it comes to managing Iraqi prisoners of war.

They broadcast, in Arabic, the rules at the massive POW camp here. They intermingle with prisoners to determine who are the leaders and who are the followers.

They interview incoming men to learn what they can about local residents.

“It’s a lot of behind-the- scenes stuff, but it makes a difference,” said Mathias, of the 13th Psychological Operations Battalion.

His unit is attached to the 800th Military Police Brigade, which administers the POW camp run by British forces. The United States will open a camp nearby and transfer the prisoners there within a few days.

“You have to look for the way someone holds themselves,” Wones said. “Look at their body language. Their eyes. Things like that.”

The 13th Psychological Operations Battalion is the only psychological operations unit specifically trained to deal with POWs, said Army Maj. Joel Droba, commander of the battalion’s Company B.

It is a difficult skill to teach and to learn, said the reservist from Minnesota who works for a county hospital in civilian life.

To prepare for this deployment, Droba’s unit went to Minneapolis-area malls and interviewed shoppers. The experience gave soldiers insight on how to gather information from people.

Droba said the ability to gather information and use it is integral to psychological operations. His soldiers interview the captives after completion of initial screening interviews at the POW camp.

“We give them tea or something to drink and let them sit down,” Droba said. “We put them at ease and that helps everyone.”

Wones said if he and his peers learn which POWs have influence, they can help maintain calm inside the camp. Sometimes, he said, the wrong person may be pegged as a camp leader. The military police will think it’s one person, but the prisoners know it’s someone else, he said.

“We try to find out who is in charge,” he said.

One way to help keep order is to play local Arab music in the camp. But, Wones said, they must ensure the lyrics are not too far right or too far left on the political spectrum.

“We kind of play the good cop,” Mathias said. “We try to win their trust and that helps us get information.”


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