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White House steps up media campaign

By wire services
Published October 14, 2003

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration, displeased with the news coverage of the war in Iraq, has accelerated efforts to bypass the national media by telling the administration's story directly to the American public.

Monday, President Bush granted interviews to five regional broadcasting companies, an unprecedented effort to reach news organizations that do not regularly cover the White House.

The effort by Bush to reach out to some 10-million Americans through the regional broadcasters - Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer had similar sessions previously - came two days after it emerged that soldiers in Iraq have sent form letters home to local newspapers asserting that the U.S. troops had been welcomed "with open arms" in Iraq.

Identical letters to the editor from different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment appeared in 11 newspapers across the country, Gannett News Service reported Saturday. (The letter did not appear in the St. Petersburg Times.)

The news service reached six soldiers who said they agreed with the letter but had not written it, one who had not signed the letter, and one who didn't know about the letter.

Lt. Col. Cindy Scott-Johnson, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the form letter was similar to the "hometown news release program" and the Pentagon had raised no objection "that I know of" to the letter, apparently written by 2nd Battalion staff and distributed to soldiers.

The form letter from the troops, like the Bush interviews with local media outlets, stems from a frustration with the national media and a desire to circumvent what the administration views as unfairly negative coverage of the Iraq conflict.

Bush, in his interviews Monday, mentioned improvements to Iraq's hospitals and schools. He said "there's a great deal of consistency" in the administration's actions and "a very clear strategy," while expressing "a sense that people in America aren't getting the truth."

Baghdad poll: Residents want U.S. to linger

WASHINGTON - More than two-thirds of Baghdad residents would like to see U.S. troops stay longer than a few more months, but many of those Iraqis still have sharply mixed feelings about the troops, a poll says.

The Gallup poll found that 71 percent of the capital city's residents felt U.S. troops should not leave in the next few months. Just 26 percent felt the troops should leave that soon.

However, a sizable minority felt there were circumstances in which attacks against those troops could be justified. Almost one in five, 19 percent, said attacks could be justified, and an additional 17 percent said they could be in some situations.

Report: Attacks used Hussein's explosives

BAGHDAD - The two most recent suicide bombings here and virtually every other attack on American soldiers and Iraqis were carried out with explosives and materiel taken from Saddam Hussein's former weapons dumps, which are much larger than previously estimated and remain, for the most part, unguarded by U.S. troops, the New York Times reported, quoting unnamed allied officials.

The problem of uncounted and unguarded weapons sites is considerably greater than has previously been stated, the newspaper quoted an unnamed senior allied official as saying.

The U.S. military now says that Iraq's army had nearly a million tons of weapons and ammunition, as opposed to the as much as the 650,000 tons that Gen. John Abizaid, the senior American commander in the Persian Gulf region, estimated only two weeks ago.

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