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US Army Press Chief Riles Locals

TV viewers infuriated by what they see as his positive spin on events.
By Aqil Jabbar

Three times a week, dozens of Iraqi reporters file into Baghdad's conference centre, hoping to make US Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt squirm with a tough question. But each time, they file out disappointed.


Even Iraqi television viewers curse the fact that the Coalition's main military spokesman – perhaps the most unpopular man in Iraq – once again has bettered his antagonists.


"I always try and ask General Mark Kimmitt embarrassing questions, but he always has a suitable answer," grumbled Abdullah al-Khafaji, a reporter for Sawt al-Mujtama newspaper.


When Kimmitt departs this week, the Coalition will lose a representative whose imperturbability, quick responses to questions, and upbeat attitude have become famous across the country.


But many Iraqis have found Kimmitt's positive spin more infuriating than inspiring.


"Kimmitt is the lord of lies," said Basra taxi driver Hamza al-Shimari, 33.


"It is as though he gives opium to the people. He always talks about security and stability in Baghdad, and the happy life in Iraq, while the situation is [in reality] like hell."


"He tries to keep the people quiet with his lies, and describes America as an angel, trying to [jettison] its image as a devil," said Majed Haidar, 53, a clothing store owner in the southern town of al-Kut.


Although virtually every Iraqi journalist has a Kimmitt answer that they love to hate, perhaps the all-time most repeated quote came in response to a question posed by al-Kawathar newspaper journalist Ayad al-Fatlawi.


How should Iraqis respond after seeing reports of civilian casualties during anti-Coalition uprisings in April? Fatlawi asked Kimmit.


The general responded by following the Coalition line that Arab satellite stations were misrepresenting events.


"Change the channel to a legitimate, authoritative, honest news station," Kimmitt said. "The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and lies."


Kimmitt's alleged high-handedness is particularly infuriating to supporters of anti-Coalition movements.


"Whenever Kimmitt says on television that Muqtada al-Sadr has to face up to the 'crimes' he committed, I get upset and want to throw my ashtray at the television," said Baghdad café owner Ahmed Muhib, 45, a supporter of the radical preacher.


"We do not care about taking revenge on [US President George W.] Bush or [Coalition administrator Paul] Bremer, but we want to drink the blood of the liar Mark Kimmitt, who called the mujahideen of Fallujah 'terrorists'," said Abid Ayel, 57, a citizen of the predominantly Sunni town that was the site of major fighting in April.


Kimmit is unfazed by the opinion many Iraqis seem to have of him.


"I tell the truth about terrorists,” Kimmit said. “But these people don't understand the truth, and they hate me because I hope for peace for Iraq."


Aqil Jabbar is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.


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