Byline: BARRY WIGMORE
A PUBLIC relations stunt backfired on U.S.
army spin doctors yesterday after they tried to paint a rosy picture of the situation in Iraq.
Dozens of letters supposedly written by U.S. troops stationed there have been sent to their local newspapers back home.
They tell how American forces have brought life in the war-torn country back to normal for the local population, with new electricity, water and sewage plants installed.
People wave at passing U.S.
troops and children run up to shake their hands, they say.
But last night the letters were exposed as a fraud - and a senior officer admitted responsibility for the stunt.
The controversy has arisen as George Bush's popularity continues to slump in opinion polls and a growing number of Americans question the war and the wisdom of a drawnout occupation of Iraq.
The letters all had identical wording, and some of their 'authors' said they knew nothing about them.
'What letter?' asked Private Nick Deaconson, when his father phoned from Beckley, West Virginia, about the words that had appeared in their local paper.
'I was suspicious because it just was not Nick's writing style,' said his father.
The lengthy, well-written letters all came from soldiers with the Second Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment who are stationed in Kirkuk.
They have shown up in newspapers as far afield as Florida, Massachusetts and California.
They all say: 'Kirkuk is a hot and dusty city of just over a million people.
The majority of the city has welcomed our presence with open arms.
'After five months here, the people still come running from their homes into the 110-degree heat waving at us as our troops drive by on daily patrols of the city.
'Children smile and run up to shake hands, and in broken English shout, "Thank you, mister".
'The people of Kirkuk are all trying to find their way in this new democratic environment. Some major steps have been made.
'We have been instrumental in building a new police force.
'The battalion has also assisted in re- establishing Kirkuk's fire department, which is now even more efficient than before the war.
'New water treatment and sewage plants are being constructed, and the distribution-of oil and gas are steadily improving.' It went on: 'Laws are being rewritten to reflect democratic principles. The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened.' The fraud was discovered when two identical letters arrived at the same newspaper, The Olympian, in Snoisedhomish, Washington state. …