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U.S. blasts Arabic-language TV networks

Al-Jazeera rejects accusations

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Citing reports by Arabic-language television networks they considered erroneous, U.S. military representatives urged Tuesday that reporting from some news organizations not be taken at face value.

Arabic-language news outlets appeared to bear the brunt of the criticism, which was leveled with unusually pointed language.

Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor called a report that U.S. forces have targeted women and children "poisonous."

"It is part and parcel with the reporting that we have been seeing, or the misreporting that we've been seeing, on a number of the satellite channels like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya," Senor told reporters.

Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar, and Al-Arabiya is based in Dubai.

Al-Jazeera responded to the allegations Tuesday in a written statement.

"Al-Jazeera rejects these accusations and consider them a threat to the right and the mission of the media outlets to cover the reality of what is happening in Iraq during this tough and complicated field circumstances," the statement said. "This is an unjustified pressure against the freedom of the press."

On Saturday, Senor said, Al-Jazeera reported falsely that Baghdad students who had converged at Mustansiriyah University to prepare relief supplies for the people in Fallujah were ordered out.

"Al-Jazeera reported the U.S. troops surrounded the university and demanded via loudspeakers that the students leave the university," Senor said.

"We, of course, looked right into this when a report as concerning as this one came out, and we learned that approximately 20 students from Mustansiriyah University came to a coalition force compound complaining of an armed militia on their campus.

"Coalition forces and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps responded to the university and searched 14 buildings, confiscated nine AK-47s, one pistol, pro-[Muqtada]-al-Sadr banners and one al-Sadr uniform," Senor said.

Al-Sadr is a prominent Shiite Muslim cleric who is wanted by the coalition in connection with the death of a rival. His outlawed Mehdi Army has been in the vanguard of recent uprisings in several cities.

Senor also criticized a report Saturday from the embattled southern city of Kut.

"Al-Jazeera reported that large numbers of British soldiers were killed, their vehicles destroyed in an attack on their camp in the governate of Maysan," Senor said.

"We [checked] this with our officials in Maysan, who confirmed no casualties of any kind after nine mortar rounds fired at an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps base."

About a claim made by Al-Jazeera that coalition tanks had twice targeted the network's own reporters, Senor said, "This last one is especially absurd. I don't think it deserves clarification."

He did not refer to a U.S. bombing of the network's facilities last April, in which reporter Tariq Ayoub was killed.

At the time, an Al-Jazeera reporter said the U.S. strike was an attempt to silence the network, which was witnessing what he called crimes against the Iraqi people. He cited as evidence the fact that two missiles hit the building.

A Pentagon official said U.S. military forces "absolutely did not" target Al-Jazeera.

Later Tuesday, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt -- in an interview with Al-Jazeera anchor Jamal Azhar -- accused the Arabic-language television network of lying.

Asked why U.S. tanks violated a cease-fire in Fallujah, Kimmitt challenged the premise of the question.

"I don't think that the U.S. soldiers violated the cease-fire in Fallujah," he said.

"We have been respecting a unilateral cease-fire. But you have to understand, if our troops are attacked, they have the right to defend themselves and respond."

Azhar said the network's correspondent in Fallujah confirmed the violation.

"I know that your reporter may have confirmed it to you. But that's what your correspondents have been doing for the last few days, repeating and confirming lies," Kimmitt said.

"I can indulge in a conversation with you which might turn ugly because the pictures confirm what our correspondents are reporting out of Iraq," Azhar responded.

Kimmitt ceded nothing. "Here, I'd like to use a popular Hollywood expression: that cameras often lie."

Last month, the U.S.-led civil administration in Iraq closed the Baghdad newspaper Al Hawse for 60 days, accusing the publishers of inciting violence against coalition troops.

The paper was published by followers of al-Sadr, and its closure sparked outrage.

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