Turmoil Takes Iraq Politics After WikiLeaks Release

Reports of brutality and torture of fellow Iraqis at the hands of government forces have Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on the defense as his rivals citing the documents as proof he's unfit to lead.

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In Iraq, reaction to the release of the WikiLeaks war documents has so far been muted. Late this past week, the website released nearly 400,000 once-secret military field reports related to the war in Iraq. The files detailed cases of detainee abuse and civilian deaths. Opponents of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki say the documents raise new concerns about whether he should remain in power for a second term.

NPR's Kelly McEvers reports from Baghdad.

KELLY MCEVERS: The documents are mostly SIGACTS, which in military speak means significant actions. These are first reports of violence recorded by low-level U.S. officers in the field.

WikiLeaks released nearly all the SIGACTS in Iraq from 2004 to 2009. In them, U.S. troops reported widespread abuse of detainees by Iraqi soldiers and police. U.S. soldiers did not investigate the abuse. Iraqi officials have vowed to investigate any criminal behavior. But they also said many of these cases are old, and the officers who might've been responsible for the abuse have since been purged.

The documents also detail wrongdoing by units that claimed they were directly connected to current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. During the sectarian fighting that gripped Iraq from 2006 to 2008, it was widely believed that death squads sponsored by Maliki's Shiite-dominated government carried out killings against Sunnis.

In a statement, Maliki's office said there's nothing wrong with maintaining special counterterrorism forces, and the documents don't prove anything. The statement also criticized the timing of the WikiLeaks release, hinting that Malaki's political enemies could capitalize on the allegations.

What's yet to be said in the local media is the fact that the names of many victims of the Iraq war were recorded in these SIGACTS, despite the fact that WikiLeaks did redact some names to protect people from reprisals. The release of names and details such as the time and place of an attack could mean that Iraqis who lost relatives might gain new information about people long believed missing.

The WikiLeaks site, though, remains too buggy to navigate - meaning the information most critical to Iraqis could take weeks or even longer to emerge.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad.

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