Iraqis Hope WikiLeaks Shed Light On Brutal Past In Iraq, reaction to the WikiLeaks documents has focused mainly on allegations of wrongdoing by Iraqi officials. But as details are revealed, Iraqis anticipate the documents will hold some answers to long-unresolved questions.

Iraqis Hope WikiLeaks Will Shed Light On Brutal Past

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

It's been three days now since the whistleblower website WikiLeaks released a massive collection of secret documents related to the Iraq War - nearly 400,000 in all. It's still unclear what, if anything, they mean for our understanding of the war, whether they clarify or further complicate things. We're going to hear now about reaction to the documents inside Iraq. There, most of the attention has so far focused on allegations of wrongdoing by Iraqi officials.

As NPR's Kelly McEvers reports, Iraqis are also beginning to wonder if the documents may answer some long unresolved questions.

KELLY MCEVERS: The documents are actually these things called sigacts, which is military-speak for significant actions. Much like a police report, a sigact is keyed into a computer right after a violent incident. Many sigacts are no longer than a paragraph.

After U.S. soldiers responded to reports of a robbery in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad in October 2006, the sigact read like this.

Unidentified Man #1: (Reading) Patrol stops pick-up truck occupied by 17 local nationals in Iraqi army uniforms, orders detention of all 17 individuals.

MCEVERS: Sounds straightforward, but then there's this interesting line.

Unidentified Man #1: (Reading) Detainees claim to be Iraqi special forces working for the prime minister's office.

MCEVERS: At the time, Iraq was in the middle of a bloody sectarian war. It was widely believed that members of the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki controlled violent gangs that targeted rivals in Sunni neighborhoods. Allegations like these are the main focus of the WikiLeaks news coverage here in Iraq, where Maliki is still the prime minister.�

(Soundbite of news talk show)

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking foreign language)

MCEVERS: On this news talk show, al-Maliki's spokesman says the prime minister's political opponents are just looking for ways to shame him.�Other officials have gone so far as to say the documents were faked by using Photoshop. The documents do offer countless reports of abuse and torture of Iraqi detainees by Iraqi soldiers and police. Iraqi officials have vowed to investigate. But they also say most of the cases are old. Many Iraqis say torture is still a regular part of life.

Unidentified Man #3: (Speaking foreign language)

MCEVERS: This soldier, who didn't want to give his name for fear of losing his job, says two months ago he watched as nearly 20 soldiers brutally beat an insurgent whod confessed to booby-trapping a house and killing eight Iraqi troops.

Unidentified Man #3: (Through translator) It started with slapping him on the face and punching him. And he fell on the ground. And they started beating him and kicking him with their boots, smashing his ribs.

MCEVERS: And smashing his face. It only took minutes for the suspect to die. Another officer confirmed the insurgent was killed by Iraqi soldiers but denied he was beaten. Either way, with abuse like this still common, many Iraqis' reactions to the WikiLeaks documents has been: So what? Torture, death - this is nothing new. Others say it's important to have a record.

So, yeah, tell us your name.

SAJAD: Sajad.

MCEVERS: Sajad. And...

DU'A: Du'a.

Unidentified Man #4: Du'a.

MCEVERS: These two children survived an attack by an American helicopter that appeared in two sigacts back in 2007.

SAJAD: (Speaking foreign language)

MCEVERS: Their father did not survive. Hed stopped his van to help two wounded Iraqi journalists who later died.�The attack was captured on this military video and released by WikiLeaks earlier this year. The children's uncle, Sattar Um Tashar Tuman, says its important to finally know what happened that day.

Mr. SATTAR UM TASHAR TUMAN: (Through translator) For me, of course I would say it's something very good, because I would see my brother in the accident, and I would feel okay, relieved, whenever seeing the video. I would know the truth.

MCEVERS: The truth is something many Iraqis are still searching for: the wife who went missing; the son whose body was never found. These new documents might hold some answers.

For now, WikiLeaks has redacted all names from the sigact database that's available online. But news outlets were given the full database, and some names are beginning to trickle out.

Saad Eskandar heads the Iraqi National Archive. He's trying to convince the U.S. government to release another trove of documents. These detail atrocities during the Saddam Hussein era. Eskandar says much of this database would be accessible to Iraqi academics and lawyers, but not to average people. He says while people have the right to know what happened to their relatives, how they might act on information from the Saddam data or the WikiLeaks data could be dangerous.

Mr. SAAD ESKANDAR (Iraq National Archive): If these records mention names of those who killed or the name of this battalion of this army units, or the police, this will lead to social chaos. We don't want this.

MCEVERS: As one Iraqi put it: In our country, we don't sue someone when we feel like we've been wronged. We take revenge.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad.

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