updated 9/1/2006 12:26:54 PM ET 2006-09-01T16:26:54

The U.S. command in Baghdad is seeking bidders for a two-year, $20 million public relations contract for monitoring the tone of news stories about the Iraq war filed by U.S. and foreign media.

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Proposals, due Sept. 6, ask companies to show how they would "provide continuous monitoring and near-real time reporting of Iraqi, pan-Arabic, international and U.S. media," according to the solicitation issued last week.

Contractors also will be evaluated on how they would provide analytical reports and customized briefings to the military, "including, but not limited to, tone (positive, neutral, negative) and scope of media coverage."

The winner of the contract probably also would be required to develop an Arabic version of the multinational force's Web site.

Attempts by The Associated Press to contact officials connected to the project by telephone and e-mail were not successful Thursday night.

Coincidental timing?
The program comes during what has appeared to be a White House effort, before the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, to take the offensive against critics as polls show withering support for the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

President Bush addressed the American Legion's national convention in Salt Lake City on the issue Thursday, stressing that a U.S. pullout from Iraq would lead to its conquest by America's worst enemies.

He continued a theme set by both Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when they spoke to the administration-friendly group earlier in the week.

The military last year was criticized for a public relations scheme in Iraq that included hiring a consulting firm that paid Iraqi news media to carry news stories written by American troops.

Pentagon officials have defended the program as a necessary tool in Bush's campaign against terror. But critics have said it contradicts American values of freedom of the press.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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