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Rumsfeld says 'misstated' facts on planted Iraq news

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WASHINGTON, Feb 22 (Reuters) Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said he was mistaken when he stated last week that the US military had stopped paying Iraqi newspapers to publish pro-American articles.

Rumsfeld had said in a television interview on Friday that the US military had ceased paying to place positive stories in Iraqi media after criticism in the US Congress and press. Rumsfeld made similar comments the same day to the Council on Foreign Relations.

''I just misstated the facts,'' Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing yesterday.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the military command in Iraq was still paying to plant positive stories, even as US Navy Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk investigates it.

Rumsfeld said he did not know whether Van Buskirk's inquiry would be completed soon. The review was ordered by Gen. George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, officials said.

On ''The Charlie Rose Show,'' aired on PBS stations, Rumsfeld said, ''The press got it, then the Congress starts calling for hearings and fussing about this, and complaining about that, as though it was something terrible that happened.'' ''It wasn't anything terrible that happened. When we heard about it, we said, 'Gee, that's not what we ought to be doing.' And we told the people down there, and they -- they told the contractor who did it -- it wasn't a military person -- and they stopped doing that,'' Rumsfeld added in the interview.

The stories were placed with the help of Lincoln Group, a Washington-based defense contractor.

Van Buskirk's inquiry was announced in December after the military confirmed US troops in an ''information operations'' task force wrote articles with positive messages about the US mission that were translated from English into Arabic and placed in Iraqi newspapers in return for money.

The US command in Iraq at the time said ''articles have been accepted and published as a function of buying advertising and opinion/editorial space, as is customary in Iraq.'' Some US lawmakers have said the practice could undermine US credibility as American officials try to foster democratic institutions in Iraq and tout its emerging free press.

Rumsfeld told the Council on Foreign Relations that the military command in Iraq ''has sought nontraditional means to provide accurate information to the Iraqi people in the face of (an) aggressive campaign of disinformation.'' ''Yet this has been portrayed as inappropriate -- for example, the allegations of someone in the military hiring a contractor, and the contractor allegedly paying someone to print a story -- a true story -- but paying to print a story,'' Rumsfeld said.

The US military has argued it is important to counter what it calls misinformation spread by insurgents.

REUTERS PDS RAI0541

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