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Articles intended to counter enemy propaganda, U.S. military says

WASHINGTON—The U.S. military acknowledged Friday that it has been using third parties to buy advertising space in Iraqi newspapers for articles designed to counter enemy propaganda.

But a senior Republican senator said he was told at a Pentagon briefing that some of the stories weren't identified as having been paid for by the U.S. military.

The paid-for news articles and allegations that the U.S. Army has been paying Iraqi journalists to produce upbeat reports about the U.S.-led effort to crush the Sunni Muslim insurgency have ignited concerns in Washington about harm to U.S. credibility. U.S. efforts to nurture democracy in Iraq include the development of an independent free press.

The U.S. military command in Baghdad said that articles have been offered "for publication to Iraqi newspapers, and in some cases articles have been accepted and published as a function of buying advertising and opinion/editorial space, as is customary in Iraq."

It said that third parties have been used to place the materials "to mitigate the risk to publishers," who could be targeted by insurgents for dealing with the U.S. military.

The articles were designed to counter "misinformation and propaganda by an enemy intent on discrediting the Iraqi government and the Coalition, and who are taking every opportunity to instill fear and intimidate the Iraqi people," the statement said.

The U.S. command is investigating whether "the process may be functioning in a manner different than is intended or appropriate."

U.S. defense officials have said that The Lincoln Group, a Washington-based defense contractor, has been used to place the materials.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was told at his Pentagon briefing that The Lincoln Group was "authorized to provide payment for placement of this material in Iraqi newspapers."

But in some cases, materials weren't labeled as having been paid for by the U.S. military, he said.

"Now it's been discovered in some areas there's an omission of that reference that it's been paid for. And they're looking into that," Warner said.

Warner said the Pentagon was investigating.

He said that while he still has "grave concerns" about the reports of payments to journalists, the United States must fight what he described as "plain factually wrong" information that's "being fed to the Iraqi press" by U.S. foes.

"The disinformation going out in that country is really affecting the effectiveness of what we're achieving and what our troops are fighting and dying for and being wounded," he said. "And as a consequence, we have no recourse but to try and get the truth and the facts out."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): PAIDFOR NEWS

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