Pentagon urged to explain 'planted' Iraqi news reports

Click to follow

The White House has gone into damage control following reports in the US media of secret payments to get Iraqi newspapers to print pro-American articles.

The Los Angeles Times quoted Iraqi defence officials as saying that US troops are writing articles with positive messages about the US occupation and paying Iraqi newspapers to print them.

"We're very concerned about the reports," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday.

Virginia Republican Senator John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has asked Pentagon officials to respond to the allegations today.

He said : "I am concerned about any actions that may undermine the credibility of the United States as we help the Iraqi people stand up a democracy.

"Further, a free and independent press is critical to the functioning of a democracy and I am concerned about any actions which may erode the independence of the Iraqi media."

Asked about the reports, Major General Rick Lynch, spokesman for US forces in Iraq, said al-Qa'ida leaders believed "half the battle is the battlefield of the media".

"What (the extremist network's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab) al-Zarqawi's doing continuously is lying to the Iraqi people..." he said. "We don't lie. We don't need to lie. We do empower our operational commanders with the ability to inform the Iraqi public, but everything we do is based on fact not based on fiction."

He did not explicitly confirm the practice of paying newspapers to run pro-US articles, but other unnamed officials in the report did confirm that payments were taking place.

The paper also reported that the military had bought an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station to disseminate pro-American views.