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The US has launched a spam offensive in the hopes of persuading senior Iraqi officials to defect.

A senior unnamed US military official told CNN that thousands of email messages have been sent out since last Thursday, when the unconventional campaign began.

"This is just the beginning of a psychological warfare campaign," he said.

The propaganda messages, written in Arabic and targeted at senior officials and military, apparently include a helpful guide on how to defect, along with an appeal to turn over any information on Iraq's supposed chemical and biological weapons programme to UN inspectors.

The messages, titled 'Important Information', also urge military personnel to disable weapons of mass destruction or refuse to use them in the event of war, which is starting to look increasingly likely.

It's believed to be the first time the US has used email propaganda in an information warfare campaign.

Iraq has reportedly shut off some Internet gateways to stop these emails getting through. The US military, which confirmed the story, only after news of the spam offensive leaked out, has pledged to get its message across by using radio broadcasts and leaflets dropped from airplanes instead. ®

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