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Aid groups pitch plays out on Al-Jazeera

In an effort to reach new donors, Portland-based Mercy Corps is targeting Arabs and Muslims around the world by running advertisements on Al-Jazeera, the controversial Arabic-language satellite television network based in Qatar.

'We want to reach out to (Al-Jazeera's) 35 million Arabic-speaking viewers,' said spokeswoman Susan Laarman. 'We know that the Muslim community is very generous, and part of Islam is to give to people who need help.'

'Two-thirds of our work is done in Muslim countries,' she said. 'We want people to know that a Western-based organization like ours is part of the humanitarian response. We want them to know people do care about innocent Iraqis.'

The ad was produced with the help of Allied Media Corp. in Arlington, Va., which specializes in marketing to ethnic groups, said Matthew De Galan, Mercy Corps chief development officer.

Titled 'Children of Iraq,' it features photos of Iraqi children and families. 'There aren't terrible images of children who have been bombed,' De Galan said. 'All it says is Iraqi children need our help.'

Laarman said Mercy Corps is aware that Al-Jazeera is controversial and considered by some U.S. officials to be biased toward Iraq. But, she said, U.S. officials including Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice have appeared on the network. And last week an Al-Jazeera reporter was kicked out of Baghdad.

DeGalan said Mercy Corps is spending 'a very modest amount' for the ad, though he wouldn't say how much.

'It cost us less to advertise on Al-Jazeera than on Portland television stations,' he said. 'It's got to be the best buy in the TV world.'

Ñ Mary Bellotti