BAGHDAD, Iraq – Pentagon officials are investigating whether a deliberate effort was made by the U.S. military to fabricate quotes from Iraqis reacting to insurgent attacks.
The veracity of press releases from American forces reporting on the Iraqi battlefield is drawing scrutiny after a comparison of two military-released statements showed uncanny similarities.
Two releases put out by the military's Task Force Baghdad (search) about two separate insurgent attacks contained nearly identical quotes by unidentified Iraqis. Both releases now appear to have been modified on the Pentagon's Web site.
One statement was contained in a July 13 release following the car bomb attack next to U.S. troops handing out candy and toys that killed 27, including 18 children and teenagers.
"The terrorists are attacking the infrastructure, the children and all of Iraq (search). They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics. They have attacked my community today and I will now take the fight to the terrorists," an Iraqi was quoted as saying.
A nearly identical quote was contained in a news release Sunday after a car bomb exploded at a market area near the front gate of the Al-Rashid police station in Baghdad (search), killing 40 Iraqi policemen.
"The terrorists are attacking the infrastructure, the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces], and all of Iraq. They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics. They have attacked my community today and I will now take the fight to the terrorists," reads the quote in the second press release.
Defense Department spokesman Larry DiRita told reporters Thursday that the duplication appears to have been "a very serious error both in process and in judgment."
Although DiRita could not rule out whether the quote was fabricated or actually made anonymously, it is clear it found its way into more than one release.
DiRita said he believes that the first quote was real. But he acknowledged that he didn't know if this is the first time a quote has been duplicated in military-issued press releases. He added that anonymous quotes should not appear in any Department of Defense releases.
When the duplication was initially brought to their attention, military officials described it as a lapse and expressed regret over the confusion, calling it a simple error. But one senior U.S. military official told FOX News earlier this week that the military is looking into the incident as a serious issue and possibly as a deliberate effort to "manufacture" news.
The senior official said while the duplication appears to have been intended, it's unclear whether the quote was real in the first place and an information officer liked it so much he decided to use it again in a second release.
"We're getting close to understanding it better and I think the folks that are involved in theater have tried to understand it very carefully," DiRita said Tuesday.
"The quote may have been modestly modified," he said. "It was done for reasons that I don't understand very well yet but I intend to understand better. It probably reflects a certain rush to get something out on an important activity that occurred that may have benefited from a little better rigor than it got."
The releases are sure to raise the eyebrows of critics who have questioned the legitimacy of the entire war in Iraq as well as from the 55 percent of Americans who said in a July Associated Press/Ipsos poll that they disapprove of the U.S. government's handling of it.
About 1,780 American troops have died since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. As expected by many analysts anticipating the Aug. 15 deadline for the Iraqi National Assembly to vote on a draft constitution, violence against U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians has increased in recent months.
On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) said he wants U.S. troops "on their way out" as soon as the Iraqi government can manage. In response, Pentagon officials suggested that if all goes well with Iraqi elections this year and Iraqi forces are in control of security, a significant troop withdrawal could begin by next spring.
FOX News' Nick Simeone and Bret Baier and The Associated Press contributed to this report.