Rumsfeld: U.S. Struggles to Combat Anti-American Propaganda

By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 28, 2006; 3:33 PM

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today the United States military has not figured out how to combat anti-American propaganda by Iraqi militants, including a widely reported claim that a Sunday attack by U.S. and Iraqi special forces targeted innocent Shiite Muslims praying in a mosque.

The raid, which killed 16 followers of the Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr--an outspoken opponent of the U.S. presence in Iraq--targeted a terrorist cell responsible for attacks on soldiers and civilians, U.S. military officials say. But a false claim by Sadr's aides that a mosque was targeted received widespread attention, Rumsfeld said.

"Clearly, the United States government has not gotten to the point where we are as deft and clever and facile as the enemy that is perfectly capable of lying, having it printed all over the world, and there's no penalty for having lied," Rumsfeld said at an afternoon news conference at the Pentagon. "Indeed, there was a reward [for the enemy] because a great many people read the lie and believed it."

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. and Iraqi forces came under fire as the attack began around twilight Sunday, and then returned fire. He said the compound that was attacked contained a hostage wing and some weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices.

"Those are not religious instruments," Rumsfeld interjected, as photographs of the weapons were displayed for reporters.

One building in the compound contained a "small minaret and a prayer room . . . Some people are calling it a mosque," Pace said.

"There was firing from inside the compound" at U.S. and Iraqi special forces, Pace said. "I cannot tell you whether or not there was actually somebody in the minaret firing or not."

Pace said he did not know whether anyone was killed in the prayer room.

Rumsfeld said the mission was carried out by 180 Iraqi special forces and "60, 80, 90" coalition forces.

Rumsfeld also said today he was never briefed on a U.S. military study that said Russian intelligence fed U.S. battle plans to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein before the 2003 invasion.

The Russians have said the allegation is untrue.

"I suspect that what was in the government report characterized a document or some piece of information that existed," Rumsfeld said. "I haven't seen the specific reference [to the Russians] in the report."

Asked if he knows whether the information is true, Rumsfeld said: "No, I don't. It's something that obviously merits looking into."

Later, he suggested it was not unusual that he had not been briefed on the allegation, which was publicly disclosed last week.

"The idea that we're supposed to know what's going to be on every single document or report that comes out of this department . . . doesn't quite appreciate the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of reports that are put out," Rumsfeld said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to launch a "serious investigation" into the allegation.

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