A roast turkey presented to US troops in Iraq for Thanksgiving by President George W Bush was reportedly only used for decorative purposes.
George W Bush serves turkey to US troops in Baghdad
Photographs showed the president holding the turkey next to US troops as if preparing to serve it for their holiday meal.
But the Washington Post paper says the bird had been roasted by a contractor to use as a table decoration.
Mr Bush paid a surprise visit to Iraq amid unprecedented security last week.
Mr Bush stunned 600 troops of the First Armoured Division when he arrived as they were due to begin their Thanksgiving dinner.
They had not been told in advance of Mr Bush's visit - the first to Iraq by a US president - and even journalists accompanying him were warned not to report the visit until they had left the country on Air Force One, the president's plane.
The White House has been criticised over an incident involving Air Force One
News of the visit, and the images of Mr Bush holding the turkey aloft while talking to delighted US troops, created a media frenzy in the US and it was hailed as a public relations coup for the Bush administration.
It also served as a well-timed morale boost, as concerns continued to grow in the US over the high numbers of casualties in Iraq.
However, now it seems likely that the soldiers ate pre-prepared turkey instead, not the glistening golden brown creature handled by the US president.
But US officials countered they did not know that the turkey was going to be there or that Mr Bush was going to pick it up.
The allegation comes as the White House has been criticised for repeatedly changing its version of events regarding an encounter between Air Force One, and a regular aircraft whose pilot spotted it over British airspace on its way to Iraq.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan quoted a statement from the London area's air traffic control centre which said a pilot had asked if the plane behind him was, as he suspected, Air Force One.
Air traffic control replied to say only that the plane was a Gulfstream V, which was how it had been described in the flight plan for security reasons.
Previously, it had been wrongly implied that the conversation had been between the regular plane's pilot and Air Force One itself.
The Bush administration said it had told the anecdote to reveal the inherent danger surrounding the US president as he prepared for the visit, but the incident has been criticised as excessive "spin" on the part of Mr Bush's handlers.