The Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday that the programme began this year and the articles were written in English, translated into Arabic and then given to newspapers in Baghdad to print in return for money.

 

Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said on Thursday: "We're very concerned about the reports. We are seeking more information from the Pentagon."

 

He said General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had indicated that Pentagon officials were looking into the reports.

 

McClellan said: "We need to know what the facts are. General Pace indicated it was news to him as well."  

 

Basis of story

 

The Los Angeles Times said it based its story on interviews with US military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity and with Iraqi newspaper employees, as well as documents it obtained.

 

A US public relations firm helped
translate the stories

The Times reported that a defence contractor, a Washington-based public relations firm called Lincoln Group, helped translate the stories and used staff or subcontractors posing as freelance journalists or advertising executives to bring them to Iraqi media outlets.

 

The Times depicted the stories as "basically factual", but said they omitted information that might not reflect well upon the United States or the US-backed Iraqi government.

 

The newspaper also reported that the "Information Operations Task Force" in Baghdad has bought an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, and was using them to disseminate pro-American views.

 

The Bush administration was embarrassed early this year when it was disclosed that the Education Department had paid Armstrong Williams, a commentator, $240,000 to promote President George Bush's landmark education plan, "No Child Left Behind".