Number 10 denies existence of media 'war unit'

LONDON - Downing Street is attempting to play down speculation that it is setting up a unit to coordinate media relations during a possible conflict in Iraq.

A Number 10 spokeswoman insisted that the Ministry of Defence would take the lead in media relations and denied the existence of a Downing Street-created "war unit".

However, when asked how far Downing Street's PR machine, led by director of communications and strategy Alastair Campbell, was involved in overseeing media relations over Iraq, she conceded "contingency plans" were in place.

She also admitted that support groups, such as the Coalition Information Centre -- devised during the 2001 Afghanistan conflict and still in operation -- had in the past played "an important role".

But she refused to confirm speculation that the CIC was now the model for media operations concerning Iraq.

This latest Downing Street denial comes amid a raft of bad publicity over Iraq. This included Clare Short's threat to resign last weekend in the event of an attack on Iraq without UN backing.

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