Wikileaks: Iraq war logs 'reveal truth about conflict'

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Media caption,

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange: "These documents are of immense importance"

The founder of whistleblowing website Wikileaks has defended the release of almost 400,000 classified US documents about the war in Iraq.

Julian Assange said the "intimate details" of the conflict were made public in an effort to reveal the truth about the conflict.

The "war logs" suggest evidence of torture was ignored, and detail the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

Iraq's PM said the release amounted to political interference in his country.

A statement from Nouri al-Maliki's office accused Wikileaks of trying to sabotage his bid to form a new government by stoking up anger "against national parties and leaders, especially against the prime minister".

Mr Maliki, a Shia, is struggling to keep his job after inconclusive general elections in March. His Sunni opponents say the Wikileaks documents highlight the need to establish a power-sharing government, rather than one in which all the power was in Mr Maliki's hands.

Casualty of war?

The US and UK have condemned the leak, the largest in US military history, with both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the UK's Ministry of Defence suggesting the disclosures put lives at risk.

A Pentagon spokesman dismissed the documents as raw observations by tactical units, which were only snapshots of tragic, mundane events. He called their release a "tragedy" which aided enemies of the West.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen - the top US military official - criticised the disclosure via the social networking site Twitter:

"Another irresponsible posting of stolen classified documents by Wikileaks puts lives at risk and gives adversaries valuable information," he wrote.

Speaking at a news conference in London, though, Mr Assange defended the release of the documents, saying there were no reports of anyone coming to harm following the release of 90,000 documents on the war in Afghanistan earlier this year.

He said the documents had been edited to remove any information that could harm individuals, adding that the snapshots of everyday events offered a glimpse at the "human scale" of the conflict.

The deaths of one or two individuals made up the "overwhelming number" of people killed in Iraq, Mr Assange said.

The new documents and new deaths contained within them showed the range and frequency of the "small, relentless tragedies of this war" added Prof John Sloboda of Iraq Body Count, which worked with Wikileaks to analyse the material.

The logs showed there were more than 109,000 violent deaths between 2004 and the end of 2009.

They included 66,081 civilians, 23,984 people classed as "enemy", 15,196 members of the Iraqi security forces, and 3,771 coalition troops.

The figures appear to contradict earlier claims that the US did not keep records of civilians killed.

Media caption,

Hillary Clinton: "We should condemn in the most clear terms the disclosure of any classified information... which puts the lives of United States and partner service members and civilians at risk"

Iraq Body Count, which collates civilian deaths using cross-checked media reports and other figures such as morgue records, said that based on an analysis of a sample of 860 logs, it estimated that around 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths would be identified.

'Nothing new'

The 391,831 US army Sigacts (Significant Actions) reports published by Wikileaks on Friday describe the apparent torture of Iraqi detainees by the Iraqi authorities, sometimes using electrocution, electric drills and in some cases even executing detainees, says the BBC's Adam Brookes.

The US military knew of the abuses, the documents suggest, but reports were sent up the chain of command marked "no further investigation", our correspondent adds.

Under a "frago" - or fragmentary order, which changes an existing order - discovery by US staff of "Iraqi on Iraqi abuse" required no further investigation.

Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad Al-Bolani said the Baghdad government would "follow up" reports of human rights violations by Iraq's security forces.

"Regardless how long the investigations will take there are courts and legal procedures that will bring to justice those who are involved in violations against any Iraqi."

One of the Wikileaks documents shows the US military was given a video apparently showing Iraqi Army (IA) officers executing a prisoner in the northern town of Talafar.

"The footage shows the IA soldiers moving the detainee into the street, pushing him to the ground, punching him and shooting him," states the log, which also names at least one of the perpetrators.

In another case, US soldiers suspected army officers of cutting off a detainee's fingers and burning him with acid.

A Pentagon spokesman told the BBC that if abuse by the Iraqi security forces was witnessed, or reports of it were received, US military personnel were instructed to inform their commanders.

The documents also reveal many previously unreported instances in which US forces killed civilians at checkpoints and during operations

In one incident in July 2007, as many as 26 Iraqis were killed by a helicopter, about half of them civilians, according to the log.

Another record shows an Apache helicopter gunship fired on two men believed to have fired mortars at a military base in Baghdad in February 2007, even though they were attempting to surrender. The crew asked a lawyer whether they could accept the surrender, but were told they could not, "and are still valid targets". So they shot them.

Media caption,

Prof John Sloboda, Iraq Body Count: "We estimate these logs will reveal more than 15,000 previously unreported civillian deaths"

A helicopter using the same callsign - Crazyhorse 18 - was also involved in another incident that July, in which two journalists were killed and two children wounded. It is not possible to establish whether the helicopter crew was the same in both incidents.

There are also new indications of Iran's involvement in Iraq, with reports of insurgents being trained and using weapons provided by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

Wikileaks has been asked to remove the documents from the web and return them to the Department of Defense, and Mr Assange said that media organisations in the US and elsewhere were coming under pressure from the Obama administration not to report on or publish them.

The investigation into July's Afghan leak has focused on Bradley Manning, a US army intelligence analyst who is in custody and has been charged with providing Wikileaks with a video of the July 2007 attack by a helicopter with the callsign Crazyhorse 18.

The release of the documents comes as the US military prepares to withdraw its 50,000 remaining troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Violence in the country has declined sharply over the past two years, but near-daily bombings and shootings continue.

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