The WikiLeaks Iraq Logs: A Protocol of Barbarity
The online whistleblower platform WikiLeaks is posting close to 400,000 US military reports from the Iraq war on the Web. The logs show in detail how brutally the war was waged and the helplessness with which the United States acted. By SPIEGEL Staff
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.
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.
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"However, it does expose secret information that could make our troops even more vulnerable to attack in the future. Just as with the leaked Afghan 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."