As the insurgency raged in Iraq, U.S. troops struggling to fight a shadowy enemy killed civilians, witnessed their Iraqi partners abuse detainees and labored to reduce Iran’s influence over the fighting.
None of these phenomena are unfamiliar to observers of the Iraq war. But this afternoon, the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks released a trove of nearly 392,000 U.S. military reports from Iraq that bring a new depth and detail to the horrors of one of America’s most controversial wars ever. We’re still digging through the just-released documents, but here’s a quick overview of what they contain.
(Our sister blog Threat Level looks at how Friday’s document dump could affect Bradley Manning, who’s already charged in other WikiLeaks releases.)
It Was Iran’s War, Too
No one would accuse WikiLeaks of being pro-war. Not when the transparency group titled its single most famous leak “Collateral Murder.” Not when its founder, Julian Assange, said that its trove of reports from the Afghan conflict suggested evidence for thousands of American “war crimes.”
So it’s more than a little ironic that, with its newest document dump from the Iraq campaign, WikiLeaks may have just bolstered one of the Bush administration’s most controversial claims about the Iraq war: that Iran supplied many of the Iraq insurgency’s deadliest weapons and worked hand-in-glove with some of its most lethal militias.
The documents indicate that Iran was a major combatant in the Iraq war, as its elite Quds Force trained Iraqi Shiite insurgents and imported deadly weapons like the shape-charged Explosively Formed Projectile bombs into Iraq for use against civilians, Sunni militants and U.S. troops.
One report from 2006 claims “neuroparalytic” chemical weapons from Iran were smuggled into Iraq. Others indicate that Iran flooded Iraq with guns and rockets, including the Misagh-1 surface-to-air missile, .50 caliber rifles, rockets and much more.
As the New York Times observes, Iranian agents plotted to kidnap U.S. troops from out of their Humvees — something that occurred in Karbala in 2007, leaving five U.S. troops dead. (It’s still not totally clear if the Iranians were responsible.)
High Civilian Death Tolls
Over 66,000 deaths classified as “civilians” are listed in the documents, which span the years between 2004 and 2009. According to an initial assessment by the Iraq Body Count, an organization that tallies reports of civilian casualties, that’s 15,000 more dead Iraqi civilians than the United States has previously acknowledged.
“This data should never have been withheld from the public,” Iraq Body Count told the Guardian.
In one incident highlighted by The New York Times, Marines who couldn’t get a car carrying an Iraqi family to stop at a Fallujah checkpoint after warning them with a flare opened fire on the car, killing a woman and wounding her husband and two children. Confusion at checkpoints was a common feature of the Iraq war, placing U.S. troops who didn’t speak Arabic in a murky situation of judging who posed a threat to them.
Iraqi Detainee Abuse
The United States spent billions to train and equip Iraqi security forces, a mission that continues to this day. But while under U.S. tutelage, Iraqi soldiers and police abused detainees in their custody. And even after the 2004 Abu Ghraib detainee-abuse scandal, U.S. troops sometimes tolerated accounts of Iraqi abuse, writing “no investigation is necessary” in one case.
That wasn’t uniformly the case: In a 2005 report, U.S. troops discovered “a hand cranked generator with wire clamps” at an Iraqi police station in Baghdad where a detainee claimed to have been brutalized. The report says the Americans took the generator as evidence and reported the incident to a two-star general — but it doesn’t specify if the general was American or Iraqi.
As expected, the Pentagon denounced WikiLeaks’ disclosure of the nearly 400,000 documents. “We deplore Wikileaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies,” e-mails Geoff Morrell, spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “We know terrorist organizations have been mining the leaked Afghan documents for information to use against us and this Iraq leak is more than four times as large. By disclosing such sensitive information, Wikileaks continues to put at risk the lives of our troops, their coalition partners and those Iraqis and Afghans working with us. The only responsible course of action for Wikileaks at this point is to return the stolen material and expunge it from their websites as soon as possible.”
WikiLeaks appears to have learned from the criticism of its last document dump, however. According to the Guardian, which has pored through the documents under a press blackout for weeks, WikiLeaks didn’t release all the information in an Iraq-deaths database, in order to protect the identities of Iraqis who worked with the United States — a correction for something that it didn’t sufficiently do when releasing U.S. military documents from Afghanistan this summer.
We’re still digging through the documents. We’ll bring you more soon. And in comments, tell us what you’re seeing — and what you’re interested in learning more about.