Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurdish spokesman contacted inside northern Iraq, said a newsreader appeared on Iraq's Youth Television channel, controlled by Udai Hussein, to denounce the faking of a copy of the newspaper, Babil (Babylon), and brandishing a fake. 'They said: this is the work of agents of imperialism. They were very annoyed about it. This is the first time they show it,' Mr Zebari said by satellite telephone from Salahuddin, 200 miles north of Baghdad and headquarters of the main opposition group to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi National Congress (INC).
The INC said that 50,000 of the newspapers were produced under the Babil masthead, printed in the Iraqi Kurdish federal capital of Arbil and smuggled over the front lines to Baghdad. It said they were then distributed at five central points in the city on Iraqi Army Day, 16 January.
'The usual pro-Saddam propaganda was replaced by stories outlining strong support for the opposition and featuring international news items,' the INC's broadcasting arm said. It was 'eagerly collected by Baghdadis who are desperate for any uncensored news about Iraq and the world. The newspapers have reportedly been passed from hand to hand.'
A plethora of television stations and newspapers is fostering a democratic culture among the 3.5 million mostly Kurdish people living autonomously in northern Iraq, under Western air protection since the Gulf war. But few transmitters can reach outside town limits. The only Iraqi government-controlled town thought to receive radio transmissions is the northern city of Mosul.
A Kurdish source said the figure of 50,000 copies sounded far too high. Iraqi troops search the few cars that dare to cross the front lines, emptying fuel tanks and confiscating items. Infantry and armoured divisions guard all other access routes into the Iraqi heartland from the Kurdish mountains.
But Mr Zebari said to 'find any chink in the Iraqi ruler's armour has to be counted as a success. To get a newspaper across is a great challenge. It must have had a great impact on people.'
He added: 'The key to success is to be able to do it again. Security will be much tighter now.'