THE revelation that the US Army in Iraq is writing favourable articles about the country's progress towards peace and democracy and placing them with well-disposed local journalists, some of whom are receiving a monthly backhander, has caused a great stir in Washington. I cannot think why. After all, it was only a year or so ago that the Bush administration was found to be producing short television films about some of its domestic policies and placing them with friendly US TV stations without attribution. But now Pentagon officials have been summoned in front of Senate committees to explain what is going on in Iraq where communications experts are supposed to be training journalists in the principles of a free and independent press. Senator Edward Kennedy has talked about illegal covert operations and said they speak volumes about the president's credibility gap. Actually, I think there is a very simple explanation of what lies behind these articles. They are not being written primarily for newspapers in Iraq but for President Bush to read. From them he will learn what remarkable progress the Iraqi security forces are making towards the day when they can take over from the US troops, who can then go home. This must explain how Mr Bush was able to make the speech he did the other day which was regarded by most informed people as sheer wishful thinking.

For instance, the President's account of an engagement at Tal Afar in which “the assault was primarily led by Iraq security forces” was immediately described as “completely wrong” by Time magazine's Baghdad bureau chief, Michael Ware, who was embedded with the US military and told CNN, “The Iraqis were not leading”. He added, for good measure, “I have had a very senior officer here in Baghdad say to me that there's never going to be a point where these guys will be able to stand up against the insurgency on their own.” There is increasing evidence that Mr Bush is isolated from anyone who will tell him what is really happening in Iraq and that he wants to hear only the good news, even if it's more fiction than fact.

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