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Gulf War Disinformation PR Promotes Private Jessica Memoir
Published on Sunday, October 19, 2003 by the lndependent/UK
Gulf War Disinformation PR Promotes Private Jessica Memoir
by Andrew Buncombe in Washington
 

In the murky world where myth, reality and disinformation merge, a public relations consultant responsible for spreading one of the most notorious falsehoods of the first Iraq war is promoting a new account of one of the most controversial episodes of the second.

Lauri Fitz-Pegado, a former US official, is helping to publicize a newly published book by Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, an Iraqi lawyer who provided information to US forces searching for prisoner of war Jessica Lynch.

In his book published on Friday, Because Each Life is Precious: Why an Iraqi Man Risked Everything for Private Jessica Lynch, Mr Rehaief tells how he risked his life to get news to US troops that the captured 19-year-old soldier was lying injured in a hospital bed in the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.

"I cannot say how I had pictured this American PoW but I never imagined her as quite so small or quite so young," he writes, recounting how he saw Pte Lynch being slapped by an Iraqi militiaman who was interrogating her.

"In that moment I felt compelled to help that person in the hospital bed. I had no idea of what I could do, but I knew that I had to do something." Mr Rehaief's actions helped lead US forces to the city's Saddam Hospital, where special forces carried out a dramatic night-time "rescue".

The Pentagon was quick to seize on the mission and leaked many details about the photogenic Pte Lynch, her efforts to avoid capture and the resistance the Special Forces soldiers met - details that subsequently proved to be false.

Mr Rehaief, 33, has been well-rewarded for his actions. In addition to the $300,000 (£180,000) advance he was paid by HarperCollins, the lawyer and his wife were granted asylum in the US. He has also been hired by one of Washington's biggest lobbying firms, the Livingston Group, and as a consultant for a TV movie about Pte Lynch.

Ms Fitz-Pegado told The Independent on Sunday yesterday that she was handling press relations for Mr Rehaief in his capacity as an employee of Livingston. But she has previously been involved in another high-profile PR campaign involving Iraq. In 1990 - following the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's forces - she was a senior executive with the PR firm Hill & Knowlton, which was hired by the Kuwaiti royal family for almost $12m to run a campaign to pressure the US government into acting against Iraq.

One of the key elements of the campaign focused on allegations that Iraqi soldiers had thrown Kuwaiti babies out of their incubators and taken the machines back to Baghdad. One of the most powerful pieces of evidence was the testimony of a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, "Nayirah", who told a Congressional hearing: "I volunteered at al-Addan hospital. While I was there I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns.

"They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the babies on the cold floor to die." It later emerged that the allegations were entirely false.

Nayirah was in fact the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US and had been coached on what to say by Ms Fitz-Pegado. She later told the author of a book about media censorship and the Gulf war: "Come on ... Who gives a shit whether there were six babies or two? I believed her." Yesterday she said she had been quoted out of context: "What I meant was one baby would be too many."

Mr Rehaief's book is being published just two weeks before Ms Lynch's own memoir - co-written by former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg, who recently left the newspaper under a cloud - reaches the bookshops. She is due to give an exclusive interview to ABC television on 11 November.

© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

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