The Iraq We Haven't Seen

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, July 26, 2006; A15

The Kurdistan regional government is rolling out a national media blitz this week: "Kurdistan: The Other Iraq," complete with cable television ads, print ads and a national tour by the head of its development office to attract investment and tourism to its northern Iraq region.

"The Other Iraq" -- despite echoes of the pork industry's "the other white meat" ads -- was specifically chosen to counter "the public perception of Iraq as a violent and dangerous place" plunging into civil war with the "peaceful and prosperous" Kurdish region, according to the campaign.

So we see pictures of smiling kids, dancing people, a booming economy. And the campaign emphasizes that "not one American or coalition soldier has been . . . killed in the Iraqi Kurdistan region since" the war began.

Okay, so there was a car bomb on Sunday that killed 22 in Kirkuk -- the flash point that could well see serious fighting as the Kurds take it over and push out the Arabs settled there by Saddam Hussein . That critical oil center, claimed as historically Kurdish until Hussein pushed many of them out, is marked for now just outside the boundaries of "The Other Iraq."

The ad campaign is the brainchild of veteran Republican public relations firm Russo, Marsh and Rogers, last seen in July 2005 doing PR for the "Truth Tour," a week-long trip to Iraq by conservative radio talk-show folks.

The idea then, we are told, was "to report the good news on Operation Iraqi Freedom you're not hearing from the old-line news media . . . including the positive developments and successes they are achieving." (Seems so long ago.)

The campaign is the first of three segments this year, an RM&R spokesman said yesterday. It's part of a "pretty open-ended" deal with the Kurdish government that RM&R expects to be "in the millions of dollars over a couple of years."

Kurdistan, with its 100,000-strong pesh merga militia -- not a bunch you want to tangle with -- has been effectively independent since the 1991 Persian Gulf War. As former diplomat and keen observer Peter W. Galbraith noted yesterday in a New York Times op-ed, "The Iraqi army is barred from the region, the Iraqi flag [is] prohibited and central government ministries are not present."

A nonbinding 2005 referendum in Kurdistan showed a nearly unanimous vote for independence. Loop Fans will not be shocked when the region splits off.

But for now, the beautiful mountainous area -- snow-capped peaks, even -- looks to be just about the safest place in the whole region. They even like Americans there.

Someone to Sweat the Small Stuff

The New York Daily News unearthed an internal job posting last week for a press assistant in Vice President Cheney 's office that it said sent "a telling little glimpse into the siege state in which the vice president appears to find himself."

The Daily News focused on a key part of the job description: "The press assistant is responsible for monitoring media for various national security and domestic issues, informing the Press Secretary and the Deputy Press Secretary of issues of note and factual inaccuracies in the media."

Of course there are other duties, such as handling press advance, working out logistics for the traveling press, helping to prepare briefing papers and so on.

The job has been filled by Jamie Hennigan , a dedicated and super-competent reelection campaign aide.

Hennigan will need courage as well. For example: "Sir, the Canton Repository reports you told Larry King on June 1, 2005, that the Iraqi insurgency was in its 'last throes.' The actual date is May 30. Should I demand a correction?"

Science of Laughter

A forum yesterday at the Brookings Institution was held by the Hamilton Project -- former president Bill Clinton's economic brain trust that aims to provide "new ideas" to Democrats for the coming campaigns. On the dais were former Treasury Department heavies Roger Altman and Robert Rubin and former Harvard president Larry Summers .

During the question period, a woman had a wonky query about anti-dumping sanctions that no one wanted to answer, our colleague Steven Pearlstein reported. She pushed a bit, saying she really wanted to hear from "Dr. Summers," who has a reputation for speaking his mind.

Everybody laughed, including Summers, who said: "I've learned from painful experience that there are risks a prudent man doesn't take."

At which point Rubin, without missing a beat, corrected: "Prudent person ."

Brought the house down.

The CIA Makes It Official

As expected, veteran CIA officer Stephen Kappes , who quit in 2004 during the brief and contentious reign of director Porter Goss , was officially named the agency's new deputy director yesterday. Morale will improve.

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