By the end of this one day, 231 people will have been killed by rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), snipers or roadside bombs. Security forces will have reported finding another 86 bodies, most of them bound, tortured and shot, "execution style," as the reports read.
On this day, 58 home-made bombs will explode and 33 others will be defused, insurgents will fire on US troops in 61 incidents, nine weapons stockpiles will be discovered and an unknown number of people will be kidnapped in seven ambushes. At three points throughout the day, there will be a brief flash of hope that the kidnapped deputy health minister will be found alive, after all.
The 1,345th day of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Nov. 23, 2006, is a particularly brutal day in the war in Iraq, bloodier than any before it.
It is 2:19 a.m. when an American patrol drives over an improvised explosive device, or IED. Four US soldiers are injured in the blast, sustaining serious injuries to their feet, calves and thighs. They have to be evacuated by helicopter. The next incident happens two hours later, when insurgents storm an Iraqi police guard post and threaten to kill the policemen unless they hand over their weapons. The insurgents make off with four Kalashnikovs.
Starting at 7:00 a.m., members of the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia named -- somewhat boastfully -- after the savior eagerly anticipated by all Shiites and known by its Arabic acronym JAM, congregate in several places in Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad. Interior Ministry employees take the men to the Hurriyah district. Soon afterwards, an American soldier reports: "The al-Hurriyah third has now been surrounded by the joint MOI (Interior Ministry) and JAM troops who are poised there for a big battle."
1:13 p.m.: The circle of Shiites surrounding the neighborhood is tightening. A US military report collects "information on a planned attack by joint Ministry of Interior and Jaysh al-Mahdi troops against a Sunni area."
2:00 p.m.: Sunni insurgents have set up their own roadblock in Baghdad. They are armed with machine guns and RPGs. Mortar fire strikes the grounds of the Health Ministry 20 minutes later.
Bloody Series of Attacks
Starting at 3:00 p.m., six car bombs explode consecutively in various locations, including a square, a market and a busy street in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood. The Americans report 181 dead and 247 wounded. It later turns out that there are 215 dead and 257 wounded, and that almost all the victims are Shiites. It is the bloodiest series of attacks since the beginning of the war.
Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr publicly calls on his fellow Shiites to exercise restraint, but internally he calls for revenge. An American soldier notes: "In response to Sunni attacks, Muqtada al-Sadr personally issued orders calling on JAM special forces to attack all Sunni populated neighborhoods in and around Baghdad."
Right after the attacks, Sadr militias throughout the country are told to make their way to Baghdad immediately. "Multiple ambulances ... loaded with unknown weapons came into Sadr City," the reports continue. Kalashnikovs are distributed. Starting at 5:26 p.m., Shiites fire a number of mortars at predominantly Sunni residential neighborhoods. According to the report, there are 14 dead and 25 wounded.
The Americans take note of the looming battles between Sunnis and Shiites. At 5:30 p.m., a group of JAM fighters and supporters in police uniforms attacks a Sunni mosque. At 6:30 p.m., other fighters have set up a fake checkpoint near the Muhsin Mosque and are abducting civilians. At 8:30 p.m., militias attack the Prophet Muhammad Mosque in the Jihad neighborhood. At 8:55 p.m., other Shiites have congregated near the al-Ashara al-Mubashara Mosque and split themselves up into groups of 10. "The JAM enter peoples' homes and kill them," the report reads. At 10:10 p.m., 300 insurgents "are gathering close to an Iraqi Army checkpoint." Iraqi army soldiers "have withdrawn from the checkpoint and the (insurgents) are planning to attack the al-Shulah area." At 10:35 p.m., JAM militias have converted a police vehicle into a launching ramp for Katyusha rockets and plan to attack Sunnis in the Adhamiya district.
Twenty-four hours of war, compiled in 360 reports by American soldiers, organized in a rudimentary grid of everyday incidents with titles like "Bomb explosion," "Under enemy fire" and "Discoveries of weapons," and archived in a Pentagon database that, once again, offers a close-up look at the daily routine of an armed conflict. This time, however, the war is one that supposedly ended three-and-a-half years earlier. It is an armed conflict that then US Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush, standing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln under a banner that read "Mission Accomplished," declared to be over when he said on May 1, 2003: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended." On that day, the chronicle of the Iraq war -- that SPIEGEL, the British newspaper the Guardian, the New York Times together with other media now have at their disposal -- had not even begun.
The Afghanistan war logs consisted of almost 92,000 reports, but this time there are 391,832 documents that can be evaluated. They begin on Jan. 1, 2004, a day on which seven explosions were reported between Kirkuk in northern Iraq and Basra in the south, and end on Dec. 31, 2009, when three attacks were reported. During this period alone, 3,884 US soldiers died, as well as 224 soldiers from allied nations, well over 8,000 members of the Iraqi security forces and 92,003 Iraqi civilians whose deaths are documented by at least one source. (Editor's note: Reasonably reliable figures are lacking for 2004.)
Together, this makes more than 104,111 deaths, a figure that approximates the number of victims reported dead in these documents, namely 109,032. And although this war wasn't nearly as devastating, in terms of the sheer number of casualties, as the Vietnam War with its 3 million deaths, its effects on the standing of the United States in the world were no less disastrous.
An Insider's View of the War
Do we now know everything there is to know about this war? Do such attempts to make the war easier to comprehend, with seemingly endless numbers of incident reports and figures, offer us any new insights? Is it even worthwhile to add another 400,000 pages of documents to the existing flood of books, reports and other documentation? Two institutions that are archenemies appear to think that the answer is yes.
In one respect, the US Armed Forces, which compiled these documents, and the website WikiLeaks, which is now publishing them, share something in common: Both organizations see these documents as an insider's view of the Iraq war, and thus as accounts that offer the most detailed, comprehensive and realistic version of the bloody truth so far.
More than anything else, what is new about these documents is the perspective they present: It is Americans themselves who report on the dramatic events that occurred again and again at checkpoints, where the excessive nervousness of the soldiers led to hundreds of deadly incidents. It is the Americans themselves who document civilian deaths all over Iraq, deaths that occurred in both insurgent and US military attacks. The documents report on the deaths of 34,000 civilians.
Another unique aspect of the leaked documents is that it is the Americans who describe the brutal violence that the Iraqis, now liberated from the control of their former dictator Saddam Hussein, inflict on each other. A civil war is only prevented at the last minute. It is neither America's opponents, nor its skeptical allies nor the oppositional media who have compiled these documents describing just how disastrous Operation Iraqi Freedom really was. It was the very people who ousted Saddam.
The Fog of WarOnce again, the three original print publications and additional media have been given access to the documents. Once again, the documents were reviewed and vetted. And, once again, there are no doubts about the authenticity of the materials. They are first-hand reports that also reflect the confusion of the moment and the notorious "fog of war."
What is new is the heated debate over the question of whether the publication of such material is permissible, and whether, as American politicians claim, using threatening language directed at WikiLeaks, that these documents endanger lives. They argue that the leaks put American and allied soldiers (there are still about 50,000 GIs stationed in Iraq) at risk by describing their routines and thus making them -- and the Iraqi informants whose identities are revealed in many reports -- easier targets for their enemies.
That, at least, is the line of argumentation used by the Pentagon in response to a request by SPIEGEL for comment on the publication of the Iraq documents. "We know our enemies will mine this information looking for insights into how we operate, cultivate sources, and react in combat situations, even the capability of our equipment. This security breach could very well get our troops and those they are fighting with killed," a statement read.
The Defense Department, however, has remained silent about a letter from Defense Secretary Robert Gates to US Senator Carl Levin that came to an altogether different assessment of the Afghanistan war logs that preceded the Iraq documents. "The review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by this disclosure," the letter read. Nevertheless, the Pentagon is once again demanding that WikiLeaks "return the stolen material and expunge it from their websites as soon as possible." Earlier, the US government asked allied nations that also have soldiers stationed in Afghanistan to prepare indictments against WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange, 39. Assange so far still feels safe outside the United States and was practically treated like a pop star in Sweden.
The American right, on the other hand, wants revenge for what it sees as high treason. Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Marc Thiessen, a member of the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, characterized WikiLeaks as a "criminal enterprise" whose goal is to obtain secret information on questions of national security and disseminate it as broadly as possible. Thiessen also argued that Assange should be arrested and convicted for his alleged crimes, and that if the countries where the Australian spends his time refused to extradite him, the FBI or the CIA should take matters into their own hands and simply arrest him.
These threats have had some impact. WikiLeaks is currently experiencing a serious crisis. Several staffers have resigned from WikiLeaks amid sharp criticism of Assange, alleging he is "some kind of emperor or slave trader." The number of supporters has also shrunk. After one of the website's programmers left, the site was at times inaccessible during recent weeks. And Assange still hasn't been cleared of allegations by two Swedish women that he sexually abused them. Assange has vehemently denied the allegations and maintained his innocence, but Swedish prosecutors are still pursuing the investigation.
One area in which Assange's self-confidence hasn't been dented is that of criticism of his leadership style. "I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, original coder, organizer, financier and all the rest. If you have a problem with me, piss off," Assange wrote to one internal critic.
The new scoop offers a chance for the WikiLeaks chief to regain credibility. The presentation of the Iraq material is meant to demonstrate that WikiLeaks may be a little down, but that it is still capable of acting and is dedicated to its core business again: the publication of documents. That's why Assange's remaining team have been holed up in their temporary headquarters in London and have been working for weeks to scrub the material of names of possible informants -- partly as a concession to various non-government organizations that harshly criticized WikiLeaks after the publication of the Afghanistan documents.
As was the case with the Afghanistan material, with the Iraq documents SPIEGEL has again done everything possible to ensure that lives are not put at risk. This includes removing the names of potential victims of individual reprisals or of places that could be targeted for collective reprisals. But, as with the Afghanistan war logs, SPIEGEL has also decided to present the documents themselves, even though they do not mention a number of key events in the Iraq war or explain the underlying political circumstances -- a fact that many criticized with the Afghanistan documents. A reporter with the Washington Post, which, unlike its competitor the New York Times, was not given pre-publication access to the material, bragged that the classified information he could gather at any Washington cocktail party was more interesting than anything the Afghanistan documents had to offer.
To a certain extent, such criticism also applies to the Iraq documents. For instance, hardly a substantive word is to be found on the Abu Ghraib scandal. Reports on prisoner abuse at the hands of Americans do appear in the material, but not until a year after Abu Ghraib, and the documents also note that the culprits were punished under military regulations. Nevertheless, the incidents and behavior they describe -- kicks, striking prisoners with a rifle butt, sexual humiliation -- pale in comparison to the acts of barbarism Iraqi security forces inflict on their fellow Iraqis.
The now-published source material also includes no reports on the storming of the Sunni stronghold Fallujah and the murders of civilians in Haditha, or on the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which went on for years. Nevertheless, the Iraq material, like the Afghanistan documents, does provide a first-hand view of the war, which makes it journalistic material in the best sense of the word: These documents are a primary source for writing the first version of the history of the conflict.
Changing Our View of War
The resulting narrative is entirely capable of changing our view of wars being fought today. The material shows how the world's sole remaining superpower allows itself to be crippled by the omnipresent fear of roadside bombs lurking around every bend in the road. These brief, matter-of-fact incident reports are only a small excerpt from a war that lasted longer than World War II. In this case, however, they have the cumulative effect of painting a precise picture of an asymmetrical war in which a superpower equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry often stands helpless on the battlefield and doesn't know what is happening to it.
In addition, the thousands of threat analyses, accounts of combat missions and arrest reports make it possible to reconstruct how the escalation of a struggle between two factions of Islam, the Shiites and the Sunnis, unfolded, how society became brutalized, and how kidnappings, executions and prisoner torture became part of everyday life. Iraq's neighbors, Syria and Iran, also became involved in this war. And although the Americans completed the withdrawal of their combat forces at the end of August, they remained the key players in this war until then -- both as perpetrators and victims.
A flood of reports show that it wasn't just ordinary police officers and soldiers who cooperated with the Shiite militias in their fight against the American occupiers, but that politicians as well as high-ranking police and military officials were directly involved in attacks on US troops and civilians between 2006 and December 2009, when the reports end. That involvement meant ordering IEDs put in place, offering the militias protection and storing their weapons. The Mahdi Army, in particular, appears to have infiltrated large segments of the police.
For example, a report dated August 4, 2006 documents that Rahim Kaukas, the head of a Shiite district in Baghdad, instructed his construction workers, who were paving several streets, to leave a gap every 200 to 300 meters (650 feet to 980 feet). JAM militia members buried their IEDs in the gaps, and the workers then sealed the gaps with fresh tar. The bombs could then be triggered remotely at the moment an American patrol approached.
A police colonel, identified as Kassim, was arrested in late July 2008 and charged with planning, together with a JAM commander, an attack on the police station in Kanat, where American and Iraqi security forces were both stationed. When JAM militias began feeding gasoline from a stolen tanker truck into the sewage system in Rusafa, a Sunni neighborhood, which they intended to set on fire, an Iraqi Army major promised his support. "Maj(or) Hussayn with the (Ministry of the Interior) commandos will provide support to the operations by setting up a perimeter around the gasoline tanker while it dumps its fuel into the sewer," one of the documents reads.
Dramatic Increase in Brutality
There are hundreds of similar reports about government assistance for the religious extremists. Together, they show how the distinctions between insurgents and government employees became increasingly fuzzy. In Baghdad, JAM militias have been able to openly move around the city for years, traveling in pickups and armed with RPGs and Kalashnikovs. They wear the uniforms of the Interior Ministry, the army or the police. And they like to use coffins for weapons transports, with a convoy of vehicles masquerading as funeral processions.
All of this happened under the eyes of the security forces, if not with their help. The reports indicate that bodies of murder victims were often found near police stations, that IEDs were placed within sight of checkpoints, in places where they ought to have been discovered, and that weapons were stockpiled behind police stations.
The reports also show how the brutality of the war increased dramatically between 2004 and 2007. Anyone could murder anyone else. The war was being waged with thousands of homemade bombs. Al-Qaida terrorists, the mortal enemies of both the JAM militias and the Americans, often hid their explosive devices in cans of baby food. During raids, US soldiers repeatedly found complete explosive devices hidden in cribs. Hand grenades were found hidden in stuffed animals for small children, and the Islamists occasionally hid their ammunition in schools and daycare centers. An IED hidden in a flashlight "blew off the arm of a boy and burned a little girl," a soldier notes succinctly in one report. The children were taken to the hospital. "Nothing else to report," the soldier concludes.
The documents describe scenes of sheer terror on a massive scale. A document dated Nov. 3, 2007, for example, relates that an Iraqi woman approached US troops to tell them that Islamists had cut off her baby's head. The officers sent out a few soldiers to look into the matter. The report ends: "Confirms baby is decapitated."
At first, al-Qaida deliberately targeted foreigners in its terrorist attacks. Starting in 2004, terrorists began kidnapping foreigners, decapitating them and dumping their bodies by the roadside like trash. Kim Sun Il, a South Korean working for a US military contractor, was found on a road between Baghdad and Fallujah on June 22, 2004. His body was booby-trapped with explosives so that whoever discovered him would be killed as well. An al-Qaida group had kidnapped Kim to blackmail South Korea into withdrawing its troops from Iraq. When Seoul refused, the terrorists beheaded the 33-year-old.
The body of another Western hostage was tossed out of a black BMW in front of a Baghdad mosque. The head was missing, the arms were handcuffed and the legs were bound with a rope. The "body was still warm and blood not thickened," a soldier wrote, describing the corpse of his fellow American, whose name was Eugene Armstrong.
A Catalog of Gory Details
When these extreme acts of violence failed to achieve the desired results, the insurgents began directing their acts of terror against Iraqis, especially those who worked with the US occupiers. In January 2005, insurgents threw a beheaded Iraqi in front of the Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad. Another man was found hanged. A note in his pocket read: "Avoid election."
Al-Qaida's most important targets were local men who worked for the Iraqi police or as soldiers. In January 2006, terrorists carrying Kalashnikovs pulled a man, a night watchman for a school, out of his car at an intersection in Mosul -- in broad daylight. They tied him up and forced him onto the ground. They yelled "God is great, God is good," and then "decapitated target individual with a knife," in the words of the US military report. The terrorists even filmed the scene for use as propaganda and threat material.
As blunt, monotonous and filled with military jargon as they are, it takes a strong stomach to read the thousands of documents. In almost perfunctory fashion, the US soldiers kept a journal of horrors, a catalog of the gory details of everyday life in a murderous country.
Almost every day, US soldiers found murder victims who had been dealt with in unspeakable ways. And if the sight of the bodies themselves wasn't horrific enough, the soldiers also had to approach them with great caution, because they often contained concealed explosives. In one instance, on Oct. 11, 2007, the body of a beheaded man was so bloated that the soldiers assumed that terrorists had stuffed the corpse with explosives. "The remaining few pieces of the body were cremated with a thermite grenade," the report reads. Rather than risk recovering the body, they blew it up.
During the last two years covered by the reports, al-Qaida in Iraq allegedly used children and adolescents as walking bombs. The groups of boys between 11 and 16 years of age called themselves "Paradise Boys" or "Youth of Heaven." The war logs indicate how seriously the Americans took these groups. In May 2009, a soldier writes: "Recent reports suggest a resurgence in the 'Paradise' Boys." The Americans had a good idea how the groups of adolescents functioned and where they met. "In most instances the children are unaware that they are the couriers of explosive devices. And 'Paradise' Boys' leadership either instruct the children to emplace a seemingly insignificant item near a specific site, or they remote detonate the device while it is still in the child's possession."
At times, the cool, businesslike reports read as if their authors had lost track of which enemy they were fighting at any given time, who exactly had infiltrated whom, and which insurgents were involved in which attacks.
This routinely led to disastrous situations at checkpoints around the country. The Americans, fearing attacks, tended to shoot too soon rather than too late. Their explanations read like helpless excuses. One report, for example, states that a man was holding something behind his back. Another report reads: "Upon search of the (deceased), USF (US Forces) determined that the weapon was plastic." In another incident, the report relates that witnesses said the man involved had an eye defect and couldn't see properly.
Most of all, the Americans were oddly restrained, not even intervening when they had information about a planned massacre, like on Nov. 24, 2006, the day after 231 people died. A report written in the evening, titled "Attack Threat," provided information about plans by Iraqi Army troops and Shiite militias to attack the Hurriyah neighborhood at 3:30 p.m., despite a curfew.
The report even specified which army unit was involved: the 1st Battalion of the 1st Brigade of the 6th Army Division. "A first lieutenant named Baha personally supervised the burning of the Nida Allah Mosque," the report reads. The attacks were underway, the report stated, and there is "little resistance from residents due to the overwhelming attack force."
There is nothing in the documents to indicate that attempts were made to stop the bloodshed, even though the Iraqi Army's 1st Brigade was a model unit. A year earlier, it had become the first Iraqi military group to assume responsibility for security in a Baghdad neighborhood.
Infiltration of Police
It wasn't until the spring of 2009 that the government made a half-hearted attempt to neutralize the JAM militias. A May 13, 2009 US military report states: "Apparently (the Interior Ministry) is finding it too difficult to go after members of militias. ... So they are doing it indirectly by executing arrests for criminal activities (which are often used to financially support these terrorist activities). They are identifying their targets as criminals, not as members of JAM."
The militias reacted by attacking senior Interior Ministry officials almost daily, with car bombs, drive-by shootings and arson attacks. Within a few days, a counterterrorism official was seriously wounded, an investigator specializing in international organized crime was shot dead and a number of bombs were found on the cars of Interior Ministry employees.
When police chiefs were replaced to combat the infiltration of the police department, the insurgents and their allies within the police department blew up their successors.
The documents paint a desolate picture of the condition of military and police units, which were pervaded with forces working against the US troops and the government, not just from below but, more importantly, from above.
Neighbors Playing with Fire
The Iraqi policemen noticed the man in front of the al-Zahraa Mosque in Kirkuk immediately. His clothing bulged suspiciously just above his hips. The faithful were already flocking to the mosque for Friday prayers. The police rushed toward the man and managed to overpower him before he could detonate his explosive vest.
The would-be suicide bomber had made it easy for the police. He was high on drugs, and the bomb wasn't even hidden properly underneath his clothing. When he finally talked to investigators, he spoke with a Syrian accent. "It is believed that he (the detainee apprehended) is affiliated with AQI (al-Qaida)," one of the classified American reports states.
It is a routine entry. At several points in the now-released US military documents, there are reports of Syrian involvement in suicide bombings in Iraq, as well as of Syrian financial and training assistance for terrorists from the neighboring country.
Not all incidents ended as harmlessly. According to a report dated August 14, 2005, a suicide bomber in the city of Mahawil was about to detonate explosives strapped to his body. When security forces opened fire on the man, he managed to set off the bomb, killing himself and two civilians.
The bomber was from Syria -- and a few other perpetrators also came from the country. On July 11, 2007, US troops detained a Mercedes bus on its way from Syria into Iraq. When they inspected the vehicle, they found 260 suicide belts, albeit without explosives, 120 gun cases, 200 kilograms of ammunition, 40 kilograms of ignition powder and 100 reloading devices for magazines.
Some time earlier, an "unconfirmed" warning was received indicating that a Syrian terrorist group planned to send 35 suicide bombers to Iraq, including 15 women. They were to be given fake security passes that would enable them to infiltrate the Green Zone, the heavily secured Baghdad district occupied by the Americans and the Iraqi government.
Monitored by Camera
Terrorists also received training in the neighboring country, as a US soldier reported on Nov. 17, 2006. "New tactic, technique, and procedure for suicide vest improvised explosive device operations has surfaced," it warns. "A new tactic, technique and procedure is being taught and fielded in Syria" in training camps, among other places, it continues.
According to the Nov. 17 report, suicide bombers were now being outfitted with a miniature camera so that they could be monitored by a second attacker -- to ensure that the suicide candidates struck the correct targets and killed as many people as possible. A useful added feature for the terrorists was the fact that, if the suicide bomber failed to detonate his or her bomb, the second attacker could do it by remote control.
For a long time, Syrian intelligence officials allowed jihadists from other countries who had come to fight in Iraq to enter the country through the Damascus airport. The jihadists then crossed the Syrian-Iraqi border to join the insurgents' holy war against the US troops.
In 2007, in the northwestern Iraqi city of Sinjar, Americans found the "personnel files" of 590 terrorists smuggled in through Syria. Their future employer, al-Qaida in Iraq, carefully differentiated between designated suicide bombers and insurgent fighters.
In a memo dated August 17, 2008, a defector stated that he had spent seven months in an al-Qaida training camp in Syria. A June 2008 report describes 90 terrorists from various countries waiting for further instructions in the border region between Syria and Iraq. An insurgent arrested in Iraq in 2009 had 19 Syrian stamps in his passport. The last stamp was dated April 1, 2009.
Iraq also shares an unstable border with other neighboring countries. Even Jordan, a US ally, is a popular safe haven for members of Saddam's banished family and a few senior members of his regime. With the help of these exiles, insurgents smuggled anti-aircraft missiles into Iran from Jordan. Weapons and ammunition were also transported along the roughly 800-kilometer (500-mile) desert road between Amman and Baghdad.
Arms were also reportedly smuggled into Iraq from Iran, some by sea. The reports clearly show that the Americans regarded the border with Iran with particular suspicion.
There were warnings of a khaki-colored boat that allegedly docked in Basra, where the Shatt al-Arab River flows into the Persian Gulf, on Feb. 1, 2007. The ship had supposedly come from Iran and was officially carrying a load of chickens and eggs. But the intelligence service of the Iraqi Defense Ministry was alarmed. Eighty Katyusha rockets were reportedly hidden among the eggs and clucking hens.
The case is one of many. Weapons were constantly being seized at the border. One log even reports on a delivery of missiles that, if detonated, could have led to nerve paralysis. On April 17, 2008, there was an exchange of fire between smugglers and security forces that lasted for hours and ended when the Iraqis managed to drive away the arms dealers. They fled in the direction of Iran but left behind 163 tank mines on their heavily packed donkeys.
Stored in Banana Crates
According to a report dated Oct. 13, 2006, the Mahdi Army bought a large number of Katyusha rockets from Iran, paying about $500 apiece, and stored them in a mosque in Basra. The missiles were later transported in ambulances to various locations around the city. A short time later, the militia warned Basra residents that it would launch an offensive at the end of Ramadan unless the British forces occupying the Basra region at the time withdrew.
Also in Basra, a cache of 14 boxes of 12.7 mm caliber machine-gun ammunition was found during a routine patrol on Dec. 13, 2009. The ammunition was also from Iran. On August 31, 2009, security forces discovered 17 steel rails and more than 1,000 car jacks in an industrial section of Amarah, a city in southeastern Iraq. Shiite militias use these materials to build their rocket launchers. The items were being stored in banana crates.
The special attention the Americans were paying to weapons shipments from Iran reads more like a deliberate search for proof that Iran was one of the main supporters of the Shiite militias in Iraq, especially given the relatively sporadic discoveries of such weapons. The reports do show, however, that such weapons shipments existed. Nevertheless, the documents offer no evidence that the government in Tehran controlled the arms trade centrally.
The Security Forces as Perpetrators of TerrorOn Jan. 17, 2007, police officers in the city of Salman Pak reported the discovery of a body. Assuming that it was a political murder, they called in a team of investigators from the national police to recover and examine the victim. But even the national police were unable to find more than the victim's severed, but otherwise unharmed, head. There was no trace of the rest of the body.
Nevertheless, police had no trouble identifying the victim, who turned out to be a fellow officer. The killers had stuck a piece of wire through the dead man's ear and attached his ID card to it. According to the card, the dead man was Adil Abu Hussein, an officer with the national police. His ID number was 001487. When he was still alive, Hussein was a member of the Wolf Brigade, the most notorious Interior Ministry police unit.
It isn't the first time that members of the 2,000-member special forces unit appear as corpses in the Americans' Iraq war logs. On July 8, 2005, a Baghdad taxicab drove up to the Al Jamouri Hospital in Mosul and dropped off four bodies, each of them peppered with gunshot wounds. The driver reported that a red Opel had forced him to stop his cab, and that armed men had then jumped out of the car, pushed him behind the driver's seat and shot his passengers. Those passengers were also members of the Wolf Brigade.
The troop was established in 2004 as an elite force to combat acts of terrorism inspired by al-Qaida within Iraq. The Americans had trained the unit, which was intended to serve as the Iraqis' strongest weapon in the fight against the bombing terror. But the police unit quickly became a weapon of terror itself. During his short term in office, from 2005 to 2006, Baqir Solagh, a Shiite and the country's then interior minister and commander-in-chief of the Wolf Brigade, recruited most of his police officers from the radical Shiite militias. Sunnis in Baghdad soon feared that the police were deploying death squads to destroy their Sunni enemies. The religious strife between Sunnis and Shiites was moving in the direction of a civil war at the time. The Wolf Brigade set up secret prisons in various locations around the country, where some of the prisoners were abused.
American military doctors scrupulously diagnosed, bruise by bruise, the wounds of Iraqi prisoners that had previously fallen into the hands of the Iraqi counterterrorism unit. In a report dated Dec. 13, 2006, a military doctor notes three times that he has "found signs of abuse" indicating that the victim was "struck by a blunt object." The examined victims had said, apparently truthfully, that they had been beaten with an object similar to a baseball bat. In the last column of his investigative report, the doctor notes that he believes the perpetrators were "National Police Wolf Brigade."
'All the Pain and Agony'
After five suspicious Iraqis were arrested on Dec. 14, 2005 for allegedly placing a roadside bomb, the police investigator on duty threatened the main suspect with a double punishment. First, he said, the man would never see his family again. Second, he would be turned over to the Wolf Brigade, which would subject him to "all the pain and agony" for which the elite unit "is known to exact upon its detainees."
The documents also report on the secret prisons of the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry, in which prisoners, most of them Sunnis, were subjected to the same kinds of tortures as prisoners had been in the days of Saddam Hussein.
A report dated Nov. 13, 2005 describes the discovery of an "(Interior Ministry) internment facility" where 173 prisoners were being held. The case made headlines around the world at the time, and even the American military reports do not gloss over the condition of their allies: "Many of them (the prisoners) bear marks of abuse to include cigarette burns, bruising consistent with beatings and open sores."
The new material also provides information about camps that have never been described in the international press before. On April 10, 2006, for example, American military officials reported that they had found an illegal secret prison containing 62 prisoners in Baghdad's Rusafa neighborhood. The prisoners were also Sunnis, and four of them exhibited signs of torture.
Hacking Off Fingers
Other documents describe cases of severe torture. In mid-June 2007, for example, Kither al-Bakar, an Iraqi, was arrested on the suspicion of having placed a roadside bomb. He was subsequently interrogated by members of the Iraqi security forces who belonged to the counterterrorism unit in Tal Afar. The Americans took notice of his case about two years later, when they discovered that his right leg had been amputated below the knee, as well as several toes on his left foot. Several fingers were amputated on both hands. There were a number of serious chemical burns on his body and he had severe skin decay.
The victim stated that three Iraqi officers had tortured him by pouring acid on his hands and hacking off some of his fingers, and that they had hidden him whenever the Americans came to inspect their counterterrorism headquarters. After an investigation into the case, the Americans reported that three arrest warrants were issued against the torturers, but they were never enforced. The victim was released in May 2009. The final sentence of the document: "His current location is unknown."
According to a report dated Feb. 24, 2009, Iraqi police stopped a brown Hyundai in Baghdad at the site where a bomb had killed a policeman the day before. They began yelling at the driver, a young man who was unshaven and who was wearing gray pants and sandals. He jumped out of the vehicle and the police shot him several times in the chest. When his body fell to the ground, a policeman began to jump and stomp on the body so much that it was rendered unidentifiable. Then they ordered the witness to leave the area immediately. The American who compiled the report noted: "The Iraqi Police motives were likely anger and a lack of trust in the Iraqi criminal justice system to convict the person responsible and give him the proper punishment."
No Need to Investigate
In hundreds of cases, American doctors identified wounds caused by torture. Prisoners repeatedly complained that they were burned with boiling water, their fingernails were pulled out, the soles of their feet were beaten with electric cable, electroshocks were applied to their genitals and bottles or pieces of wood were inserted into their anuses. But again and again there are cases in which the Americans shielded the torture practices of their Iraqi colleagues. At the bottom of the reports appear the words: No need to investigate.
When questioned, the torturers sometimes came up with the most abstruse excuses. In one case, an Iraqi interrogations specialist claimed that his victim had sustained his injuries after falling from a motorbike as he attempted to flee the police.
But in only one case, at the police interrogation center in Baghdad, did an investigator admit that he had used torture methods to extract confessions from prisoners. In an Oct. 31, 2006 report, an American soldier wrote: "He explained that his weapon of choice for obtaining the confession was a two-foot long, wooden stick with a diameter of a quarter." The Iraqi policeman was arrested.
Sometimes the Iraqis delivered evidence of their brutality on their own. In December 2009, a video fell into the hands of the Americans that depicted the murder of an Iraqi prisoner. Twelve Iraqi army soldiers were involved. The images show how the soldiers led the prisoner, whose hands were bound, into the street, then pushed him to the ground, beat him and finally shot him. The evidence, the American report states, had been "forwarded to the appropriate command for initiation of inquiry/investigation."
The report does not state whether there was any follow-up in the case.
US Soldiers as Perpetrators and VictimsA report dated July 12, 2007 appears in a category called "Direct Fire," which described military clashes between Americans and Iraqis. The report is only a few lines long, and it's one of 59,000 in this category. It isn't even particularly noticeable, not even because of the number of victims it describes: "13 AIF KIA," meaning that 13 anti-Iraqi forces were killed in action. There were also two wounded adults and two wounded Iraqi children.
But the incident described by the brief report on that July morning would change the way many people viewed the war three years later. Hundreds of thousands would watch this mission on the Internet, and they would see people falling to the ground and dying -- all from the perspective of the American shooters.
The information contained in the sparse lines of a report written in military jargon is also documented as a video. It is the original video taken from one of the two Apache helicopters, codenamed Crazyhorse 18 and 19, involved in the incident.
'Look at Those Dead Bastards'
This April, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange presented the video at the National Press Club in Washington. He had titled it "Collateral Murder."
The roughly 18-minute video is difficult to watch, partly because it isn't clear what's worse, the images or the recorded conversations of the helicopter crew. "Nice," says one crew member after a deadly salvo. "Look at those dead bastards."
But it quickly becomes apparent that two employees of the Reuters news agency were among the dead. When questioned, the helicopter crews of the 227th Aviation Regiment, which had taken off from Camp Taji at 9:24 a.m. on that July 12, stated that they had mistaken the cameras the Reuters employees were carrying for weapons.
But in the video, only two or three of the men were even carrying weapons, which wasn't unusual in the eastern part of Baghdad at the time. The video also shows how the crews asked for permission to open fire on a minibus rushing to the scene -- and how they obtained it.
When another group of Iraqis later attempted to flee into a building, the helicopter crews fired several Hellfire missiles at the building. The original incident report from that day, now published for the first time, states: "Building destroyed 6 anti-Iraqi forces killed in action."
The brutal reality of the war, captured by the helicopter camera, is not only documented but also distorted in the military incident report, which has now been published by WikiLeaks. The supposed "anti-Iraqi forces" killed were in fact mostly Iraqis who were in the wrong place at the wrong time with the two journalists.
Nevertheless, five days after the incident, the Army concluded that the rules of engagement had not been violated. The two severely injured children, who were in the minibus when it came under fire, lost their father in the attacks. He had been driving them to school when he stopped to help the injured Reuters driver.
Many Similar Incidents
The Iraq war logs describe many similar incidents that correspond to such reports.
According to the documents, only four days after the Apache helicopter attack in eastern Baghdad, there was another "engagement" involving Americans that left another group of civilians dead. The same note was appended to the reports on both incidents, namely that the incident could lead to political or international reactions and that it would likely attract attention in the press.
Once again, two helicopters codenamed Crazyhorse were involved, but this time their numbers were 20 and 21.
At about 2:00 p.m. on that day in July 2007, an American patrol came under small-arms fire. Soon afterwards, shots were fired at US soldiers from the Iraqi Electricity Ministry building. The central operations command requested air support for the soldiers under attack. In addition to the two helicopters, two F-16 fighter jets were deployed.
At 2:55 p.m., Crazyhorse 20 reported engaging two "anti-Iraqi forces" on the ground. But then, according to reports from the ground, a nearby mosque called upon fighters to assemble and attack the Americans. The reports later mentioned 50 to 60 "possible" insurgents.
Almost at the same time, Crazyhorse reported a "final gun run" -- in other words, a last attack with the onboard cannon. The "unconfirmed" casualty count, according to the report, read: Twelve dead and eight to 10 wounded opponents -- and 14 dead civilians.
Attempt to Surrender
In another incident, on Feb. 22, 2007, the crew of the helicopter codenamed Crazyhorse 18 had identified a truck apparently loaded with heavy weapons and then destroyed it. When two Iraqis fled the scene in a dump truck, the helicopter pilots took up the chase and opened fire on the truck. Then something unexpected happened. The dump truck stopped, and the Iraqis "came out wanting to surrender," the report relates. The helicopter crew radioed for advice from a military lawyer on how to deal with the situation. The report continues: "Lawyer states they can not surrender to aircraft and are still valid targets." The pilots resumed their pursuit and killed the Iraqis.
The document leaves little doubt that this was a deadly attack on people who wanted to surrender. It could prove damaging for the US Army, despite the opinion of the military lawyer quoted in the report -- because the US military handled things differently in similar cases in the past. During the Gulf War in 1991, for example, a group of Iraqi soldiers signaled their willingness to surrender after they heard the sound of a drone overhead. The Americans accepted that surrender.
In the summer of 2009, there were still about 130,000 American soldiers in Iraq. But in addition to the regular military, a no less impressive shadow army was also fighting: about 100,000 employees of civilian contractor firms working for the US government in Iraq. They included cooks for the soldiers, but also bodyguards for the US diplomatic staff and their embassies. They were often the front line in this war. So far about 1,500 American employees of private service providers and security firms have died in Iraq, and about 40,000 have been wounded.
The Role of Blackwater
The most famous of these private defense contractors is Xe Services, which used to be called Blackwater. Blackwater's mercenaries had the reputation of not thinking twice before they acted. They were often under fire, but they were also particularly ruthless in waging war.
A report from the very beginning of the period covered describes a case that made headlines worldwide. On March 31, 2004, insurgents attacked a Blackwater convoy in Fallujah, killed four Americans and hung the bodies from a bridge across the Euphrates River. Then, on Sept. 19, 2005, a suicide bomber slammed his car into a Blackwater convoy in Mosul. His accomplices opened fire on the vehicles, which had come to a stop. Four Americans died.
A few weeks later, also in Mosul, Blackwater employees were the first to open fire. The secret military reports describe the incident as follows: "Blackwater while leaving provincial hall, a vehicle approached the convoy at high rate of speed, and the unit tried waving off the vehicle with hand and arm signals. The vehicle continued to approach the unit, and the unit engaged the vehicle." One civilian was killed and another wounded.
On Feb. 7, 2006, a soldier noted that, near Kirkuk, "two civilians had been shot by a convoy consisting of four black SUVs." They were Blackwater vehicles. "A demonstration began immediately following the shooting by residents of the Rehem-Awa district." Army officials tried to contain the crowd, and discussed "the issue with ... local political leaders at the Iraqi police headquarters."
Sometimes the reports express clear dismay over the behavior of the civilian contractors. A special unit reported that, in May 2005, the mercenaries "shot up a civilian vehicle in Baghdad. Rounds also were fired over (our) heads." There was a family sitting in the car. The father died, and the mother and daughter were injured.
War Trauma and Suicide AttemptsBut the US military logs also document the adverse effects of the war on the GIs themselves, revealing that the military leadership was helpless in its reaction to the suicides, mental breakdowns and murders of fellow soldiers.
On May 11, 2009, five Americans died in Camp Liberty, near the Baghdad airport. The men were killed execution-style by a fellow soldier, Corporal John Russell of the 54th Pioneer Battalion, who had been stationed in the tranquil German town of Bamberg before he was deployed to Iraq. The report, filed under a category called "Non-Combat Event Other," stated that Russell had become "unruly" during a treatment session at a center for war trauma, and that he "was in parking lot verbally indicating he was going to commit suicide."
After that, the military police sent Russell, accompanied by another soldier, back to his unit. It was a mistake. Suddenly Russell "grabbed the escort's weapon, forced the escort from the vehicle and returned to the combat stress center in the vehicle." Soon afterwards several other soldiers "found a major, a corvette captain, a corporal and two privates with (gunshot wounds to the head) in the clinic's waiting room. The two officers were doctors at the clinic." The three others were patients who had been waiting for their appointments.
At times, the US Army's Iraq war logs read like a doctor's report describing, in terse language, the constitution of a military at war with its own inner demons. The massacre perpetrated by Russell is the worst crime to date committed by a US soldier against his fellow soldiers in Iraq. According to a study by the Rand Corporation, an American think tank, one-fifth of all Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans returning home suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To treat acute cases, the US military has set up four combat stress centers in Iraq that include psychiatrists on their staffs.
After the execution-style killings at Camp Liberty, the then-deputy commander of US forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Charles Jacoby, ordered an investigation. It concluded that the Army was poorly equipped to cope with soldiers with emotional problems. More than a week before the shooting incident, Russell's fellow soldiers were alarmed that he had frequently talked about committing suicide, even to a military chaplain. The chaplain, the authors of the report concluded, was also being routinely abused as a sort of suicide watchdog.
Russell's commanding officer sensed that something was wrong with his man. Three days before the massacre, he removed the firing pin from Russell's gun. On the morning of the shooting, the unit was so worried about his behavior that a fellow soldier accompanied him to the clinic. Before that, a commander had ordered that at least one man had to constantly keep an eye on Russell. But apparently there weren't enough men to keep it up around the clock. "There is no clear procedure or established training guidelines in any of the references for managing soldiers identified as 'at risk' for suicide or the proper way to conduct suicide watch," the final report states.
Unable to Cope
In 2008, 143 soldiers in the US Army committed suicide, and the number of suicides has risen since then. One hundred and sixty-three soldiers killed themselves in 2009, which meant that more soldiers committed suicide that year than died in attacks in Iraq. And most of the incidents involving soldiers unable to cope with the stress of war occurred in 2009 -- when, curiously, the worst of the Iraq war was long over.
Long before John Russell shot and killed five fellow soldiers, it was already clear how poorly the monitoring of suicidal soldiers was working. Military doctors had treated a sergeant at Camp Taji, 25 kilometers north of Baghdad, for psychological problems, and his superiors had confiscated his weapon. But then the man grabbed the gun of a fellow soldier and shot himself in the head.
Some soldiers with PTSD symptoms were immediately flown out via Medevac, while others returned to their units and were only required to attend a course in stress management.
The military now takes war trauma, suicide attempts and suicides associated with the Iraq war so seriously that the Pentagon has decided to send all soldiers to seminars before they are deployed. In the seminars, the soldiers will learn how to cope with traumatic stress. The prevention program will cost the Pentagon $117 million a year.
George W. Bush's successor has now declared, for the second time, that combat operations in this war are over. On Sept. 1, 2010, Operation New Dawn, an assistance and training mission, replaced Operation Iraqi Freedom. But aside from this excessively optimistic terminology, there were no signs of triumph to be seen. There were no flag-bedecked aircraft carriers or returning veterans being cheered as they marched up Broadway in New York.
The army that withdrew after seven years of war -- under cover of night and weeks before the scheduled withdrawal date -- was a demoralized force that had long since ceased to believe in the campaign's noble goals. The idea that the US soldiers, by overthrowing dictator Saddam Hussein, could create a "dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region," as President Bush believed, had long since been absent from discussions.
The documents faithfully reflect this change. In the roughly 400,000 documents, the word "democracy" appears only eight times. The "improvised explosive devices" which instilled fear in the hearts of American soldiers, however, are mentioned 146,895 times.
HANS HOYNG, CORDULA MEYER, JULIANE VON MITTELSTAEDT, FRIEDERIKE OTT, MARCEL ROSENBACH, GREGOR PETER SCHMITZ, HOLGER STARK
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2010
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH