How to capture hearts and minds: MoD gives troops social interaction guides

The Ministry of Defence has given the country's more than 12,000 soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan social interaction guides to help them communicate with the local population, The Times reported on Monday.

According to the newspaper, which obtained copies of the guides through the Freedom of Information Act, they were drawn up by the ministry's intelligence department.

The guides are divided into three booklets -- Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Arab world. They highlight how certain topics of conversation are regarded as inappropriate, with the booklet on Afghanistan reading: "Asking someone which ethnic group they are from is regarded as impolite, and questioning another man about female members of his family is especially taboo."

The guides also highlight slight differences in what is regarded as acceptable behaviour in the region, noting that while in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is impolite to refuse tea or coffee from a host, in Qatar, one should not accept more than three cups of the drinks.

In the guide to the Arab world, the booklet's authors acknowledge that many people in the region "simply are unable to believe claims by Western politicians that they have no designs to control Middle Eastern oil supplies ... or maintain a long-term military occupation of Iraq." There are 7,700 British troops in Afghanistan, and 4,500 in Iraq.

MoD gives culture guides to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (AFP, 10 February 2008)