Invoking a 60-day state of emergency declared by Iraq's US-backed interim government ahead of the assault currently under way, Iraq's Media High Commission on Thursday demanded news media to distinguish between fighters and residents of Falluja.

The authority, set up by the former US governor of Iraq, is intended to be independent of the government to encourage investment in the media and deter state meddling after decades of strict control under Saddam Hussein.

However, the commission statement sent to various media outlets during the day bore the letterhead of the Iraqi prime minister's office.

Comply or else

It said all media organisations operating in Iraq should "differentiate between the innocent Falluja residents who are not targeted by military operations and terrorist groups that infiltrated the city and held its people hostage under the pretext of resistance and jihad".

Interim PM Iyad Allawi has
declared a state of emergency

It also asked media to "set aside space in your news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear".

"We hope you comply ... otherwise we regret we will be forced to take all the legal measures to guarantee higher national interests," the statement said, without elaborating.

The state of emergency, which covers all of Iraq except the Kurdish north, gives the prime minister extra powers ahead of elections due in January.

Although it is unclear what triggered the media commission statement, some media organisations have in the past fallen foul of Iraq's interim government, which was officially given authority in June.

Aljazeera has had its Baghdad office closed since August with no word on whether they will be allowed to reopen.