FRANCISCO - Kurdish Iraqi 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 US companies to invest in the region.
The campaign looks suspicious to some
observers, however, since it is run by an A-list
Republican PR 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 voiceover
in one of the commercials currently showing
nationally on the MSNBC and Fox television
channels and in Washington, DC; Portland, Oregon;
the San Francisco Bay area.
On the screen,
Kurdish children wave US flags. "Thank you,
America," one says. "Thank you for democracy,"
The ad campaign, as well as
a US 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 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 portraying a marine
holding two machine-guns with a US flag in the
background. His son, Lance Corporal Kyle Crowley,
was killed in an ambush in Iraq in 2004. For the
past year, Russo, Marsh and Rogers has been flying
Crowley around the country as part of its Move
America Forward campaign.
speakers at the press conference, Crowley didn't
know much about the Kurds, but wanted to support
the war in Iraq. "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.
of a fallen marine, flown up from San Diego for
the event, started to cry as the television
cameras rolled. While he cried, Morgan walked
across the room and delivered a hug.
won't ever give up on the mission," she said.
"Your son did not die in vain."
appearances, the head of Russo, Marsh and Rogers,
Sal Russo, maintains that the Kurds' media
campaign has nothing to do with Move America
Forward or any of his other work for Republican
clients or the Republican Party.
not a relationship," he said, "other than we have
a lot of clients, and those are two of them."
But some observers don't buy that
"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
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 US 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
said of the PR 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, president George H W Bush signed
an executive order directing the Central
Intelligence Agency to create the conditions for
Saddam Hussein's removal. So the CIA hired a PR
firm called the Rendon Group to run an anti-Saddam
As part of that
campaign, the group founded the Iraqi National
Congress headed by Iraqi exile Ahmad 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 US tax
dollars, Chalabi fabricated evidence of weapons of
mass destruction, which George W Bush used to make
the case for war in 2003.