Kurdish ‘Thank You’ a Republican Stunt?

Kurdish officials toured the United States last week to launch a massive advertising and public relations campaign thanking the United States for overthrowing Saddam Hussein and urging U.S. companies to invest in the region.

The campaign looks suspicious to some observers, however, since it is run by an A-list Republican public relations firm that refuses to divulge how much money it is spending.

"The Kurds of northern Iraq just want to say ‘thank you for helping us win our freedom,’" says the voice-over in one of the commercials currently showing nationally on the MSNBC and Fox television channels and in Washington, D.C., Portland, and the San Francisco Bay area.

On the screen, Kurdish children wave U.S. flags. "Thank you America," one says. "Thank you for democracy," says another.

The ad campaign, as well as a U.S. tour by Kurdish politician Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, was put together by the California PR firm Russo, Marsh, and Rogers. In addition to representing the Kurdish government, the firm founded the "Stop Michael Moore" campaign to discredit the film Fahrenheit 9/11 and a group called Move America Forward, which has brought parents of dead U.S. soldiers to be counter-protesters at peace demonstrations.

The firm has also brought right-wing talk show hosts to Iraq on a "truth tour" to tell "the good news that the old-line liberal news media won’t tell you about."

All were in attendance at the Kurdish government’s press conference in San Francisco with the head of Move America Forward, local radio talk show host Melanie Morgan, serving as master of ceremonies.

"I believe the mission needs to be completed," Mark Crowley told reporters at the event, sporting a T-shirt with a U.S. Marine holding two machine guns with a U.S. flag in the background. His son, Lance Corporal Kyle Crowley, was killed in an ambush in Iraq on April 6, 2004. For the last year, Russo, Marsh, and Rogers has been flying Crowley around the country as part of its Move America Forward campaign.

Like other speakers at the press conference, he didn’t know much about the Kurds, but wanted to support the war. "I believe the world is in trouble and that those who would do harm to the innocent will continue until they’ve wiped us off the planet," he explained.

Another father of a fallen Marine, flown up from San Diego for the event, started to cry as the television cameras rolled. While he cried, talk show host Melanie Morgan walked across the room, and delivered a hug.

"We won’t ever give up on the mission," she said. ""Your son did not die in vain."

Despite appearances, the head of Russo, Marsh, and Rogers, Sal Russo, maintains that the Kurd’s media campaign has nothing to do with Move America Forward or any of his other work for Republican clients or the Republican Party.

"There’s not a relationship," he tells IPS. "Other than we have a lot of clients and those are two of them."

But some observers don’t buy that assertion.

"What’s going on here is that Russo, Marsh, and Rogers – the PR firm that organized Move America Forward and so-called media tours of Iraq to show how smashingly well the war is going – are engaged in an illegal propaganda campaign aimed at influencing the November [U.S. congressional] elections," said John Stauber, co-director of the Center for Media and Democracy and co-author of the book Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq.

Stauber believes the Kurdish government is using U.S. government money to hire the Russo firm, which is then using the money to lobby for a continuation of the war. It’s a case that is difficult to prove since neither Russo nor the Kurdish government will disclose where they got their money from or how much they are spending.

"It’s a very shadowy business," Stauber says of the public relations industry. "They don’t have to disclose anything so we may never really know where they got the money to run these campaigns."

If the allegations are true, it wouldn’t be the first such incident. In 1991, prior to the first Gulf War, George Bush Sr. signed an executive order directing the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to create the conditions for Saddam Hussein’s removal. So the CIA hired a public relations firm called the Rendon Group to run an anti-Hussein propaganda campaign.

As part of that campaign, the group founded the Iraqi National Congress (INC) headed by exile Ahmed Chalabi. Writing in the New Yorker magazine, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said the Rendon Group paid "close to a hundred million dollars" of CIA money to the INC.

Then, using U.S. tax dollars, Chalabi fabricated evidence of weapons of mass destruction which George W. Bush used to make the case for war in 2003.

(Inter Press Service)

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