WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Pentagon denied Tuesday that any U.S. ground troops were inside Iraq after a rumor of military action helped send stocks down in early trading.

Marine Lt. Col. Dave Lapan said the report cited by several stock analysts originated with Fox News and spoke of U.S. covert activity inside Iraq. A shorter ``crawl'' message that later summarized the report apparently led to the rumors of military activity, he said.

A Fox spokeswoman said the network crawl message Monday said that U.S. special operations groups were in northern Iraq working with Kurdish opposition groups. The network made clear the Pentagon was not coordinating the activity, the spokeswoman said.

Analysts also attributed the decline of about 140 points in the Dow Jones industrial average to a report showing slipping consumer confidence. The Dow later regained some of the lost ground.