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The Globe and Mail

WikiLeaks Iraq files document litany of brutality

The nearly 400,000 once-secret U.S. military files now made public by WikiLeaks catalogue four years of death and suffering in Iraq, prompting calls from human rights groups and others for an accounting by the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

The mass of documents from 2006 through 2009, on-the-ground reports written by ordinary soldiers, cover a period of intense sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites. The country was devastated by war and insurgency, kidnappings were rife and more than one million Iraqis fled the country.

While the bloodshed was widely reported at the time and the documents procured by WikiLeaks produced no real scoops, the soldiers' reports provide a detailed log of killings and vivid allegations by detainees of torture suffered in Iraqi-run prisons.

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During that period, the U.S. military and its contractors were training Iraqi security forces. They were also transferring thousands of prisoners from U.S. to Iraqi custody starting in early 2009, according to the international watchdog group, Human Rights Watch.

"Field reports and other documents released by WikiLeaks reveal that U.S. forces often failed to intervene to prevent torture and continued to transfer detainees to Iraqi custody despite the fact that they knew or should have known that torture was routine," the group said in a statement on the weekend.

It called on the Obama administration to investigate whether those transfers violated international law and called on the Iraqi government to bring the perpetrators of torture to justice.

In Britain, which also had troops in Iraq during some of the period covered in the documents, the Ministry of Defence echoed the Pentagon's condemnation of WikiLeaks' publication of the files. It said the unauthorized release of classified material puts military personnel everywhere in the world at risk.

But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg suggested that an inquiry would be useful.

"We can bemoan how these leaks occurred, but I think the nature of the allegations made are extraordinarily serious," he said Sunday in an interview with BBC. "They are distressing to read about and they are very serious. I am assuming the U.S. administration will want to provide its own answer."

In the Middle East, there was a mixed reaction to the litany of brutality by the powerful against the weak in Iraq contained in the leaked documents.

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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been trying to put together a government for nearly seven months, released a statement blaming "political interests behind the media campaign" for trying to use the files to hurt him. Mr. Maliki has been in power since 2006.

Unnamed government officials were quoted in some local news reports as saying that the cases of alleged abuse by Iraqi security forces cited in the reports obtained WikiLeaks were old and that by now, the officers involved had either been fired or quit.

But other observers have suggested that Iraq's justice system remains unable or unwilling to prosecute cases of Iraqi-on-Iraqi abuse, torture and killing. The U.S. State Department's 2009 human rights report on Iraq, for example, said "there was virtual impunity for officials tried for extrajudicial killings."

Outside of Iraq, the release of the Iraq files brought fresh condemnation of the decisions made by the American-led coalition in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion.

By disbanding the Iraqi Army, the occupation forces recruited police and soldiers along sectarian lines, said an editorial in the Arab News, a respected English-language newspaper in Saudi Arabia. The new force "used the state machinery and unlimited powers to settle old scores," the paper said. "If we do not want a repeat of Iraq," it added, "it's important to hold all those responsible for the crimes against Iraqi people and crimes against humanity to account."

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