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Iraqi Sunnis Refute Report on US Bribing Scholars

Mazen Ghazi, IOL Correspondent

CAIRO, January 2, 2006 (IslamOnline.net) ľ Iraqi Sunni leaders on Monday, January 2, refuted as baseless and a clear attempt to undermine anti-occupation powers a report by a leading US newspaper that few Sunni scholars were on the payroll of US companies orchestrating media campaigns to polish the US army's badly bruised image.

"Of course we dismiss this (report) in form and essence, but it also asserts our long-standing position that any credible political process in Iraq is impossible under occupation," Mohamed Ayyash Al-Kubeisy, a spokesman for the influential Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), told IslamOnline.net.

"Any political process could never be held away from pressures by occupation forces," he averred.

Citing current and former employees of a US PR company, the New York Times said Monday that a Pentagon contractor that paid Iraqi newspapers to print positive articles written by American soldiers has also been compensating Sunni religious scholars in return for assistance with its propaganda work.

It quoted an unnamed former employee as saying the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations company, was asked by Pentagon early in 2005 to identify religious leaders who could help produce messages that would persuade Sunnis in the resistance hub of Al-Anbar province to participate in national elections and reject the resistance.

He said the PR firm has retained three or four Sunni scholars to offer advice and write reports for military commanders on the content of propaganda campaigns.

News of bribes by the Pentagon to Iraqi newspapers to print stories written by American soldiers to polish the tarnished image of the US occupation in the oil-rich country started popping up late in December.

The Los Angeles Times said on Wednesday, November 30, that articles have been written in English, translated into Arabic, by US military "information operation" troops and then given to Baghdad newspapers to print in return for money.

"Divide and Prosper"

According to the NY Times report, Lincoln has recently sought approval from the military to make Sunni religious leaders one of several "target audiences" of the propaganda effort in Iraq.

The daily said a Lincoln plan titled "Divide and Prosper" presented in October to the Special Operations Command in Tampa, which oversees information operations, suggested that reaching religious leaders was vital for reducing Sunni support for the insurgency ľ the US term for resistance.

Al-Kubeisy, however, made it clear that US attempts in this regard will hardly meet any success.

"The Iraqi people are loyal, committed and hold their scholars at high esteem. We have gotten used to the occupation games and tricks, which aim at pitting Iraqis against their religious leaders.

He asserted that "divide and prosper" is an infamous tactic used by occupation forces throughout history.

Mohamed Al-Samarrie, a senior AMS member, agreed.

"These reports are part of the psychological war launched by the US forces against the Iraqis to undermine trust between the masses and their religious leaders, especially after realizing that mosques and scholars are the source of inspiration for the people," he told IOL.

"These rumors surfaced only after US forces had failed in (implementing) their programs in Iraq. They also came after hundreds of scholars and imams were killed or detained and attempts to draw a wedge between the scholars and the masses failed," Al-Samarrie, imam of a Baghdad mosque, added.

The American PR company said scholars "exercise a great deal of influence over the people in their communities and oftentimes it is the religious leaders who incite people to violence and to support the insurgent cause".

:: Article nr. 19178 sent on 03-jan-2006 01:26 ECT


Link: www.islamonline.org/English/News/2006-01/02/article06.shtml

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