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If the hero of 1991 brings bad news, sack him

New York/Washington, March 31 (Reuters): American television network NBC said today it had fired veteran reporter Peter Arnett after he told Iraqi television the US war plan against Saddam Hussein had failed.

Arnett, who was widely known for his dramatic live reports during the bombing of Baghdad on the opening days of the 1991 Gulf War, said in an interview yesterday with state-owned Iraqi television that the US military would need to rewrite its war plan following Iraqi resistance.

“America is re-appraising the battlefield, delaying the war, maybe a week, and re-writing the war plan,” Arnett said in the interview. “The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance now they are trying to write another war plan.”

Arnett, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Vietnam War, told NBC's Today show: “I said in that interview essentially what we all know about the war, that there have been delays in implementing policy, there have been surprises.

“But clearly by giving that interview I created a firestorm in the US and for that I am truly sorry. My stupid misjudgment was to spend fifteen minutes in an impromptu interview with Iraqi television,” he said.

His assignment with NBC and National Geographic represented a chance for redemption after he was fired from CNN in 1998 after the network retracted a documentary, in which Arnett alleged that US commandos had used sarin gas on American defectors in the Vietnam war.

NBC said in a statement it was wrong for Arnett to grant an interview with state-controlled Iraqi TV at a time of war and chastised him for making personal observations and opinions.

“His remarks were analytical in nature and were not intended to be anything more,” the network said. Yesterday, Arnett told Iraqi television that American war planners had underestimated the determination of Iraqi troops to fight US and British troops and that the Pentagon seemed to be amending its original strategy.

MSNBC, which had been using Arnett’s reports, also severed ties with him. “I’m not aware of anybody in the journalism community who has seen the war plan, much less Peter Arnett,” said Erik Sorenson, MSNBC president and general manager.

“It’s just inappropriate and arguably unpatriotic for an American to be communicating these things to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people,” he added. Asked how much of a priority patriotism should be for an objective journalist, he said: “When you go on state-controlled television after Iraq’s Vice-President promised to send terrorists into your country, I do think some patriotism is appropriate in this instance.”

On Saturday after a suicide car bomb that killed at least four US soldiers, Iraq’s Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan said it would use any method that “stops or kills the enemy.”

Arnett also said there was a “growing challenge to President Bush about the conduct of the war and also opposition to the war.”

That view echoed similar comments in many US media after the rapid advance of US forces through southern Iraq slowed south of Baghdad amid disruptive attacks on its long supply lines and persistent resistance, particularly in the towns. Arnett’s remarks were received with anger by the administration in Washington. One White House source said they were based on “a position of complete ignorance.”

In another media development, veteran reporter Geraldo Rivera, a correspondent for Fox News, is being removed from Iraq by the US military for reporting Western troop movements in the war, the Pentagon said today. Hundreds of reporters from around the world are currently assigned to US and British military units to report the war in Iraq under ground rules that allow them freedom to report without compromising the security of the troops.

Arnett, while apologetic on NBC, said he has granted many interviews in the past and that his remarks were not“out of line with what experts think.”

”Maybe some people think I'm insane, but I'm not anti-military,” he added.

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