Joe Conason's Journal

Who was behind the effort to get soldiers to sign form letters from Iraq?

Published October 13, 2003 11:01PM (EDT)

Grassroots or GOP?
Since Gannett News Service reporter Ledyard King exposed those identical spammed letters "sent" by soldiers in Iraq to their hometown newspapers over the weekend, the silly scam has exploded into the big media. (The blogger Hesiod was way ahead on this story.)

The five-paragraph letter, which appeared in at least 11 papers, told of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment's efforts to bring police, fire, water and sewer services to the northern city of Kirkuk.

"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 letter reads. And it notes that the grateful citizens of Kirkuk are constantly expressing their gratitude (just as Paul Wolfowitz once predicted). Of course, Kirkuk is controlled by the Kurdish leadership, whose people are understandably hospitable to U.S. intervention.

Nobody knows yet who was behind the effort to get soldiers to sign the form letter and have it published -- but according to Gannett, at least one soldier who supposedly signed the letter denies having done so.

One sergeant in the 173rd Airborne told King he had heard that a soldier wrote the letter and asked others to sign it, although he didn't know the soldier's name. The sergeant said that the brigade's public affairs unit was not involved. "Someone, somewhere along the way, took it upon themselves to mail it to the various editors of newspapers across the country." Other spokesmen for the 4th Infantry Division and the U.S. Central Command also pleaded ignorance.

A Pentagon spokesman told the New York Post that the military is "looking into the matter." Perhaps the brass will discover that this is just a matter of a single, eager soldier and some like-minded buddies whose initiative went a little too far. But given the plunging poll numbers that have Republicans so worried, there is another obvious possibility. The Republican National Committee is well-staffed with "Astroturf" technicians, as we learned not so long ago.
[3:30 p.m. PDT, October 13, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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