Iraq's Maliki: Opponents will use U.S. leaks against him

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, October 24, 2010; A15

BAGHDAD - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday that his opponents are using leaked classified U.S. military reports to discredit his administration as he struggles to secure a second term in office.

Maliki's government also said in a statement in response to the trove of documents released Friday night by the whistleblower group WikiLeaks that it would investigate newly disclosed shootings by employees of the American security company formerly known as Blackwater.

"We need to take these documents into consideration in order to achieve justice for our citizens," the statement said.

Referring to details of cases in which U.S. forces had killed Iraqi civilians, the statement said the U.S. military's "permissive" rules of engagement had led to a "point of crisis" between the two countries.

The documents show that U.S. soldiers killed at least 700 Iraqi civilians in situations where the troops felt threatened.

They also suggest that U.S. soldiers were ordered to refrain from formally investigating cases of inmate abuse by Iraqi police and soldiers.

While the nearly 400,000 documents disseminated by WikiLeaks have not produced major revelations, Iraqi politicians are likely to seize on newly disclosed details for political gain as negotiations over the formation of a new government drag on.

Neither Maliki nor Ayad Allawi, his main rival in the March 7 parliamentary elections, has been able to form a coalition large enough to govern.

Jamal al-Battikh, a leader in Allawi's Iraqiya alliance, said security agencies under Maliki's control are to blame for the sort of inmate torture detailed in the leaked files.

"In our dialogue with all the other blocs, we have demanded the disbandment of the security agencies that were causing violations of human rights," he said. "These kinds of security agencies are causing all the harm."

Some Sunni leaders said the information in the reports detailing torture in Iraqi prisons was a vindication of claims they have been making for years.

"These releases haven't brought anything new to us, because for four or five years we have been calling for these practices to stop," said Omar al-Jubouri, a Sunni politician. "Maybe they will give more credibility to what we have been saying, because now the Pentagon confirms it while before they were just citizens' claims that were denied."

Baghdad residents interviewed Saturday did not show much interest in the leaks, saying the little they have heard about them on television sounded like old news.

"I only saw the subtitles," Adnan Mehdi, 62, said while sitting outside an electronics shop in downtown Baghdad. "We're used to violence. We don't care anymore about what happens."

Across town, in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Dora, Khattab Musli, 23, said government forces will continue to be heavy-handed, with or without U.S. intervention, regardless of who prevails politically.

"Right now, we have the law of the jungle," he said. "The strong will eat the weak."

In London, meanwhile, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange heralded the release of the documents as a major step toward accountability in the Iraq war. He also strongly defended the whistle-blowing Web site against criticism from the Pentagon and elsewhere that the disclosures represent a security risk.

"This disclosure is about the truth," he said at a news conference.

John Sloboda, co-founder of Iraq Body Count, a London-based organization that has kept the most comprehensive tally of Iraqi civilian deaths since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, said the new documents pointed to at least 15,000 "previously undisclosed" civilian deaths in addition to the 107,000 in the group's database.

Correspondent Anthony Faiola in London and special correspondents Aziz Alwan and Jinan Hussein contributed to this report.

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