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Profile: Al Mutamar

Al Mutamar was a participant or observer in the following events:

The US Department of Defense awards at least three contracts, valued at $37.3 million, to a small Washington-based firm called the Lincoln Group to plant stories in the Iraqi press. (Jelinek 10/19/2006; Mazzetti 10/20/2006) The stories—written by US “information troops,” but presented as unbiased news reports written by independent journalists—“trumpet the work of US and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout US-led efforts to rebuild the country,” according to the Los Angeles Times. (Mazzetti and Daragahi 11/30/2005) Though the articles, referred to as “storyboards” (Mazzetti 3/4/2006) , reportedly seem factual they are one-sided and filtered to exclude information critical of the US or the Iraqi government. “Absolute truth [is] not an essential element of these stories,” one senior military official tells the newspaper. The program is part of an effort to shape public opinion about the US occupation and the Iraqi government. As of the end of November 2005, dozens of articles, with headlines such as “Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism” (see August 6, 2005), have been printed by the Iraq presses. The campaign is operated by the Information Operations Task Force in Baghdad, under the command of Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines. Employees or subcontractors of the Lincoln Group, posing as freelance reporters or advertising executives, deliver the articles to Iraqi media organizations. One of the Iraqi media outlets that runs the stories is Al Mutamar, a Baghdad-based daily run by associates of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi. According to Luay Baldawi, the paper’s editor-in-chief, Al Mutamar will “publish anything.” Articles from the military are sent to Baldawi’s paper via the Internet and are often unsigned. “The paper’s policy is to publish everything, especially if it praises causes we believe in. We are pro-American. Everything that supports America we will publish.” Baldawi runs the articles as news reports, indistinguishable from other news stories. The propaganda campaign is not supported by everyone at the Pentagon. One senior Pentagon official tells the Los Angeles Times: “Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we’re breaking all the first principles of democracy when we’re doing it.” The Defense Department’s program appears to undermine the work of another US government program in Iraq being run by the State Department. That program trains Iraqi reporters in basic journalism skills and Western media ethics and includes one workshop titled “The Role of Press in a Democratic Society.” Another problem with the propaganda campaign, critics point out, is that US law prohibits the military from conducting psychological operations or planting propaganda in the US media. But as several officials concede to the Los Angeles Times, stories in the foreign press inevitably “bleed” into the Western media and influences US news. “There is no longer any way to separate foreign media from domestic media. Those neat lines don’t exist anymore,” one private contractor who does information operations work for the Pentagon tells the paper. (Mazzetti and Daragahi 11/30/2005)

Al Mutamar, a Baghdad-based daily run by associates of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, runs a news article titled “Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism” prominently on the newspaper’s second page. According to Luay Baldawi, the paper’s chief editor, the paper receives no money to run the story. However, according to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Al Mutamar was paid $50. (Mazzetti and Daragahi 11/30/2005)


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