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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 10:38 GMT
Iraq violence 'linked to US vote'
Relatives embrace in front of coffin of US soldier Andrew Patton
Increasing numbers of Americans want troops to start coming home
US Vice-President Dick Cheney has said that insurgents in Iraq have increased their attacks in order to influence the upcoming US mid-term elections.

He blamed a recent rise in violence on al-Qaeda and others trying to "break the will of the American people".

"They're very sensitive to the fact that we've got an election scheduled," he said, claiming the militants monitor US public opinion via the internet.

In October US forces in Iraq suffered one of their worst monthly death tolls.

The BBC's James Westhead in Washington says the Iraq war is dominating the final week of campaigning in the mid-term elections in which Republicans fear they may lose control of one or both Houses of Congress.

Graphic of US military death toll in Iraq, 2006 plus three other highest months

Polls indicate sliding support for the Bush administration's Iraq policy and growing numbers of Americans wanting to see US troops returning home.

However, no withdrawal timetable has been set and the Pentagon has confirmed that the number of troops on the ground has increased to 150,000 - the highest this year, although that is partly due to units overlapping as they swap around.

Speaking in an interview with Fox News, Mr Cheney said that insurgents were using the internet to time their attacks, although he did not provide any evidence to that effect.

"There isn't anything that's on the internet that's not accessible to them. They're on it all the time. They're very sophisticated users of it," Mr Cheney said.

Propaganda unit

Pentagon spokesman Eric Ruff has echoed the vice-president, saying that the militants are trying to "increase opposition to the war and have an influence against the president".

There isn't anything that's on the internet that's not accessible to them. They're on it all the time. They're very sophisticated users of it
Dick Cheney
US vice-president

Their comments come amid one of the worst months of violence since the war began, which has claimed the lives of 101 US troops and many more Iraqis.

The upturn in violence also coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which Mr Cheney said could have been a contributory factor.

Despite the violence, the BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says that the Bush administration does not believe the true picture of events in Iraq has been made public.

The White House is particularly concerned that insurgents are using the internet to disseminate their message and give the impression they are more powerful than the US, our correspondent says.

In response the US defence department has set up a new unit to better promote its message across 24-hour rolling news outlets, and particularly on the internet.

The Pentagon said the move would boost its ability to counter "inaccurate" news stories and exploit new media.

'Set the record straight'

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said earlier this year the US was losing the propaganda war to its enemies.

Ayman al-Zawahri, shown on a video aired by al-Jazeera on 17 June 2005
Al-Qaeda figures like Ayman al-Zawahri issue video messages

The newly-established unit will use "new media" channels to push its message and "set the record straight", the Pentagon's Mr Ruff said.

"We're looking at being quicker to respond to breaking news, being quicker to respond, frankly, to inaccurate statements," he said.

A Pentagon memo seen by the Associated Press news agency said the new unit would "develop messages" for the 24-hour news cycle and aim to "correct the record".

The unit would reportedly monitor media such as web logs and would also employ "surrogates", or top politicians or lobbyists who could be interviewed on TV and radio shows.

Mr Ruff said the move to set up the unit had not been prompted either by the eroding public support in the US for the Iraq war or the US mid-term elections next week.

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