The war never sleeps, including this Thursday.
It's seven minutes past midnight, and US soldiers are on an operation in the northwestern Iraqi city of Haditha. They apprehend two men that intelligence reports say are insurgents. The men are then taken to a nearby operating base for interrogation. "No casualties or damages reported," the military report of the operation reads. That's all. No other details about the men or the operation.
The log of the event at 0:07 hours is classified as secret -- just like the 359 other logs that were filed on Nov. 23, 2006, in the US Army database. They cover routine operations such as the arrest, but also attacks in which hundreds of people will be killed.
More than 390,000 documents from 2004-2009 recently made public by the website WikiLeaks show the Iraq war from a rarely seen perspective: that of the soldiers fighting it. They log every battlefield drama, whether in Baghdad or Basra, Fallujah or Haditha, in a template containing 32 standard categories: X enemies killed, X US soldiers killed, X civilians killed, types of incidents, short summaries and more.
Of course, the logs don't tell the entire story. The material posted by WikiLeaks is only made up of documents marked secret, not top secret. That means many major events are omitted. The true significance of the documents lies in the fact that they provide a previously unavailable view of the recent history of this war-torn country.
The documents show, among other things, how omnipresent homemade bombs -- what the US military calls "improvised explosive devices" or IEDs -- were each day in Iraq. On that Thursday alone, US forces dealt with 118 such infernal devices, half of which exploded. The field reports describe events such as these:
At 6:41 a.m. the sun rises over Baghdad, it's a fresh 46 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius). Three minutes later the following report arrives:
So it continues, incident after incident. Not all of the reports are about IEDs laid for unsuspecting US troops. Some troops are shot, some come across suspicious items and people; there are raids, air strikes and vehicle patrols.
It's a typical day's work. The daily routine is brutal in this war.
Then, in the afternoon, the sky over Baghdad is heavy with smoke and all hell breaks loose.
The log of the incident, which will be reported worldwide, begins at 3:38 p.m. A car bomb explodes in Baghdad, the log says. It reads like dozens of other reports on this day. It says the damage caused by the explosion is not yet known and neither is anything about the number of casualties.
The weather report on this day on the website Weather Underground says "smoke" at 3:55 p.m.
An update follows at 4:56 p.m.: Six bombs have exploded in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City. At 5:04 p.m., public authorities close Baghdad Airport. At the same time, the first report of the attack appears on SPIEGEL ONLINE. A report with the headline "The Day of Terror: Curfew After the Worst Attacks Since the Beginning of the War" is published in the hours following.
The Associated Press writes that the "fiery explosions sent up huge plumes of black smoke over northeastern Baghdad, and left streets covered with burning bodies and blood." The survivors of the blasts, some of them terribly mutilated, are treated in hospitals. The bombers struck a crowded market, where many people had been buying food for the weekend.
The report reads like a sober inventory list, describing the climax of one of the bloodiest days in the Iraqi civil war.
The field reports on this day alone list 318 deaths, of which 281 were civilians. During these weeks Shiites and Sunnis attack each other relentlessly, but the war logs rarely mention the religious affiliation of the attackers or victims. Many are found tortured and murdered and the logs don't give any hint of the circumstances surrounding the incidents.
The incidents are reported around the clock. At the end of the day, 70 deaths are reported as sectarian murders throughout the country, most of which take place in the heart of Iraq while only a few are reported in the north and south. The vast majority happened during the day, the incidents drop during the night.
What remains of Nov. 23, 2006, in the collective memory of the US military? Incidents: 360. Deaths: 318. Minimum injured: 373.
A normal day in Iraq, where at that time the war never slept.
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