As chaos continues across much of Iraq, the governing
authority is coming to yet another crossroads.
Inside the Green Zone the location of the U.S. Embassy and major Iraqi government
offices officials are struggling to forge an acceptable constitution by the
August deadline. Outside the relative safety of that enclave, the insurgency
continues apace as demonstrated by daily suicide bombings and civilian casualties.
While the Shi'ite leaders of the government are negotiating deals and solidifying
ties with Iran, and the Sunnis remain mostly disaffected from the political
process, the Kurds appear to have mastered a dual strategy of participating
in government decisions while at the same time, taking matters regarding their
future into their own hands.
The generally efficient, if questionable, electoral process not only turned
out large numbers of voters, but it also allowed Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani,
to be selected as the country's president, insuring close participation by the
Kurds in all important government deliberations.
In a parallel strategic track, however, the Kurdish Regional Government appears
to be keeping its options open, recently hiring Russo
Marsh & Rogers (RM&R) a Sacramento, Calif.-based public relations
firm with close ties to the Republican Party to promote its interests.
Many political observers believe that the future of Iraq may see a full-blown
civil war or possible partition. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh recently
wrote in The New Yorker magazine that a United Nations official involved
in the elections told him: "The election was not an election but a referendum
on ethnic and religious identity. For the Kurds, voting was about self-determination."
"Our job" with the Kurds, RM&R's Joe Wierzbicki told IPS, "is
to carry out a public relations campaign that will thank the American people
for supporting the war in Iraq, and encourage Americans to visit and invest
in the Kurdish region."
The project has not yet gotten underway and it is unclear how long the contract
will actually run. "It's a short-term thing because they don't know how
long the public relations campaign might go," Wierzbicki said.
RM&R took on this work, he said, because "of all the different groups
in Iraq that have a vision for the future, the vision of the Kurds is closest
to ours. It's important to recognize that the Kurds are not hostile to the West."
In addition, "their vision, belief system and values they've had a
democratic system in place for a while parallel ours."
No doubt, it's "a very messy situation over there and the country is trying
to figure out its future. The Kurds would like the rest of country to look at
the Kurdish region and see it as a model for the rest of the country."
Wierzbicki quickly added that they are definitely "not advocating an independent
The "war on terror" has been good to Russo Marsh & Rogers. Shortly
after 9/11, it supported a brief, but nasty, campaign to unseat California Rep.
Barbara Lee, after she had cast the lone Congressional vote against giving President
George W. Bush a blank check to pursue his war on international terrorism.
Lee, who received numerous death threats and received special condemnatory
attention from David Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture, was
challenged by former Green Party State Assemblywoman Audie Bock.
With the support of RM&R, Bock came out of the box with the campaign slogan,
"It's OK to Love America." Completely misjudging the electorate in
the Ninth District, a district that was represented by Ron Dellums, the longtime
voice for anti-militarism and social justice, Bock's campaign came to a crashing
halt in short order.
Before Russo Marsh & Rogers finalized the deal with the Kurds, it had other
business in Iraq to attend to: handling the publicity for the "Truth Tour,"
a seven-day carefully calibrated trip to Iraq by a group of conservative radio
talk-show hosts that was intended to spread the "good news" about
what is happening on the ground.
The tour was organized by Move
America Forward (MAF), an organization that, according to the Washington
Post, owes much of its existence to the good offices of Russo Marsh &
Rogers. The Office of Media Outreach, a taxpayer-funded publicity arm of the
Department of Defense, also sponsored the tour.
Move America Forward describes itself as "a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization
dedicated to preserving our American heritage of freedom and liberty."
Its Web site pointed out that the purpose of the "Truth Tour" was
"to report the good news on Operation Iraqi Freedom you're not hearing
from the old line news media....to get the news straight from our troops serving
in Operation Iraqi Freedom, including the positive developments and successes
they are achieving."
Wierzbicki said that from "the very beginning," MAF was the project
of Howard Kaloogian, a former California State Assemblyman, and Melanie Morgan,
the co-host of a morning show on KSFO-AM in San Francisco, and that Sal Russo,
the founder of Russo Marsh & Rogers, "helped set it in motion."
Wierzbicki allowed that RM&R has done "all of the [group's] public
relations stuff, press releases, and radio and television ads that have been
aired to date."
Move America Forward is currently soliciting contributions to run an advertising
campaign called "Tortured Words," a commercial aimed at countering
Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin's recent criticism of the conditions
at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba. MAF intends to run the ads on "major
broadcast affiliates (NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox) throughout Senator Durbin's home state
In June 2004, eager to discredit Michael Moore's award-winning documentary
Fahrenheit 9/11 before it hit the movie theaters, Russo Marsh & Rogers
collaborated with MAF to lead a campaign that urged its supporters to "Stop
Michael Moore" by taking "action against the release of his anti-American
movie Fahrenheit 9/11."
Russo Marsh & Rogers' Web site claims that, "When it comes to winning
elections, few firms can match [its] success."
By its own accounts, its record is impressive. It maintains that it devised
the campaign strategy that allowed George Pataki, "a little known State
Senator" from Peekskill, New York to defeat New York's Governor Mario Cuomo.
RM&R also "was hired by the California Republican Party to help salvage
a sagging campaign to pass Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative
[and] in the weeks leading up to Election Day [it] produced an advertising campaign
which saved the initiative."
RM&R's Wierzbicki was circumspect about exactly which issues his firm would
be handling. But according to O'Dwyer's PR Daily, one of the chief goals
of Kurdish leaders is "the return of Kirkuk," an oil-rich northern
Iraqi city populated by Kurdish and Turkmen people.
The struggle over Kirkuk could precipitate a major conflict within Iraq. The
public relations campaign's launch date could come as soon as later this summer
or could be put off until the fall, Wierzbicki said, and the campaign will would
likely feature television and print advertisements.