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[] Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid U.S. Propaganda

New York Times
January 2, 2006
Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid U.S. Propaganda 

WASHINGTON, Jan. 1 - A Pentagon contractor that paid Iraqi newspapers to print positive articles
written by American soldiers has also been compensating Sunni religious scholars in Iraq in return
for assistance with its propaganda work, according to current and former employees.

The Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations company, was told early in 2005 by the
Pentagon to identify religious leaders who could help produce messages that would persuade Sunnis in
violence-ridden Anbar Province to participate in national elections and reject the insurgency,
according to a former employee.

Since then, the company has retained three or four Sunni religious scholars to offer advice and
write reports for military commanders on the content of propaganda campaigns, the former employee
said. But documents and Lincoln executives say the company's ties to religious leaders and dozens of
other prominent Iraqis is aimed also at enabling it to exercise influence in Iraqi communities on
behalf of clients, including the military.

"We do reach out to clerics," Paige Craig, a Lincoln executive vice president, said in an interview.
"We meet with local government officials and with local businessmen. We need to have relationships
that are broad enough and deep enough that we can touch all the various aspects of society." He
declined to discuss specific projects the company has with the military or commercial clients.

"We have on staff people who are experts in religious and cultural matters," Mr. Craig said. "We
meet with a wide variety of people to get their input. Most of the people we meet with overseas
don't want or need compensation, they want a dialogue."

Internal company financial records show that Lincoln spent about $144,000 on the program from May to
September. It is unclear how much of this money, if any, went to the religious scholars, whose
identities could not be learned. The amount is a tiny portion of the contracts, worth tens of
millions, that Lincoln has received from the military for "information operations," but the effort
is especially sensitive. 

Sunni religious scholars are considered highly influential within the country's minority Sunni
population. Sunnis form the core of the insurgency. 

Each of the religious scholars underwent vetting before being brought into the program to ensure
that they were not involved in the insurgency, said a former employee, who spoke on condition of
anonymity because Lincoln's Pentagon contract prohibits workers from discussing their activities.
The identities of the Sunni scholars have been kept secret to prevent insurgent reprisals, and they
were never taken to Camp Victory, the American base outside Baghdad where Lincoln employees work
with military personnel.

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the American military in Baghdad, declined to comment.

After the disclosure in November that the military used Lincoln to plant articles written by
American troops in Iraqi newspapers, the Pentagon ordered an investigation, led by Navy Rear Adm.
Scott Van Buskirk.

Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq, said that a preliminary assessment made
shortly after the military's information campaign was disclosed concluded that the Army was
"operating within our authorities and the appropriate legal procedures."

Admiral Van Buskirk has finished his investigation, several Pentagon officials said, but it has not
been made public.

Lincoln recently sought approval from the military to make Sunni religious leaders one of several
"target audiences" of the propaganda effort in Iraq. 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

"Clerics 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," the
company said in the proposal, a copy of which was reviewed by The New York Times.

In some cases, "insurgent groups may provide Sunni leaders with financial compensation in return for
that cleric's loyalty and support," the proposal said, adding that religious leaders are motivated
by "a need to retain patronage" and a "desire to maintain religious and moral authority."

Unlike in many other Middle Eastern countries, sermons by Iraqi imams are not subject to government
control, enabling them to speak "without fear of repercussions," the document said. 

The Special Operations Command said in a statement that it did not adopt the Lincoln plan, choosing
another contractor's proposal instead. When the Lincoln Group was incorporated in 2004, using the
name Iraqex, its stated purpose was to provide support services for business development, trade and
investment in Iraq. 

But the company soon shifted to information warfare and psychological operations, two former
employees said. The company was awarded three new Pentagon contracts, worth tens of millions of
dollars, they said.

Payments to the scholars were originally part of Lincoln's contract to aid the military with
information warfare in Anbar Province. Known as the "Western Missions" contract, it also called for
producing radio and television advertisements, Web sites, posters, and for placing advertisements
and opinion articles in Iraqi publications. In October, Lincoln was awarded a new contract by the
Pentagon for work in Iraq, including continued contact with Muslim scholars.

Lincoln has also turned to American scholars and political consultants for advice on the content of
the propaganda campaign in Iraq, records indicate. Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar at the
American Enterprise Institute, a Washington research organization, said he had reviewed materials
produced by the company during two trips to Iraq within the past two years.

"I visited Camp Victory and looked over some of their proposals or products and commented on their
ideas," Mr. Rubin said in an e-mailed response to questions about his links to Lincoln. "I am not
nor have I been an employee of the Lincoln Group. I do not receive a salary from them." 

He added: "Normally, when I travel, I receive reimbursement of expenses including a per diem and/or
honorarium." But Mr. Rubin would not comment further on how much in such payments he may have
received from Lincoln.

Mr. Rubin was quoted last month in The New York Times about Lincoln's work for the Pentagon placing
articles in Iraqi publications: "I'm not surprised this goes on," he said, without disclosing his
work for Lincoln. "Especially in an atmosphere where terrorists and insurgents - replete with oil
boom cash - do the same. We need an even playing field, but cannot fight with both hands tied behind
our backs."

Richard A. Oppel Jr. contributed reporting from Baghdad, Iraq, for this article.

Magnus-Sebastian Kutz, Dipl.-Pol.
Universität Hamburg
Arbeitsstelle Medien und Politik 
Sedanstraße 19
20146 Hamburg

Tel.: 040/42838-5793
Fax.: 040/42838-7497

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