Armed Conflicts, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, North America

Wikileaks Paints Grim Picture of Iraqi Civilian Casualties

NEW YORK, Oct 25 2010 (IPS) - Two revelations await the reader of the Wikileaks section dealing with civilian deaths in the Iraq War: Iraqis are responsible for most of these deaths, and the number of total civilian casualties is substantially higher than has been previously reported.

There were numerous gruesome but seemingly isolated events that caught the interest and attention of the press and the public. For example, on Aug. 31, 2005, more than 950 people were killed in a stampede on a bridge in Baghdad, after the crowd had been panicked by a number of earlier attacks. And on Aug. 14, 2007, in a rural area near the Syrian border, truck bombs murdered more than 500 Iraqis.

But, even more than these horrendous incidents, the action that catapulted the mass killings off the charts was a carefully planned, systematic strategy of religious and tribal cleansing. That campaign, Wikileaks says, reached its zenith in December 2006, which it calls the worst month of the war.

That month saw the deaths of some 3,800 civilians, along with the killings of about 1,300 police officers, insurgents and coalition soldiers.

U.S. soldiers, too, share responsibility for civilian killings, Wikileaks says. It reports many instances of U.S. soldiers killing Iraqi civilians at checkpoints, from helicopters, and in operations.

Wikileaks says these killings were a central reason Iraqis turned against the U.S. presence in their country.

Detailed analyses of the 391,832 documents disclosed by Wikileaks Friday were published by The New York Times and several other invited media organisations, based on tens of thousands of secret field reports from the battlegrounds of Iraq. In July, Wikileaks released a smaller number of reports dealing with the war in Afghanistan.

According to the New York Times account, the current archive “contains reports on at least four cases of lethal shootings from helicopters. In the bloodiest, on July 16, 2007, as many as 26 Iraqis were killed, about half of them civilians. However, the tally was called in by two different people, and it is possible that the deaths were counted twice.”

Later, in February 2007, two Iraqi men believed to have been firing mortars, even though they made surrendering motions, were shot and killed by an Apache helicopter. The action was taken because, according to a military lawyer cited in the report, “they cannot surrender to aircraft, and are still valid targets.”

However, in three other instances, Iraqis surrendered to helicopter crews without being shot.

The Times writes that, “The pace of civilian deaths served as a kind of pulse, whose steady beat told of the success, or failure, of America’s war effort. Americans on both sides of the war debate argued bitterly over facts that grew hazier as the war deepened.”

While no one really has an exact tally of Iraqi deaths, the Wikileaks numbers appear to be in line with those of several sources, including Iraq Body Count. That organisation used press reports to track civilian deaths, a method frequently criticised by the George W. Bush administration as unreliable and producing inflated numbers.

In all, the five-year archive lists more than 100,000 dead from 2004 to 2009, though some deaths are reported more than once, and some reports have inconsistent casualty figures. A 2008 Congressional report warned that record keeping in the war had been so problematic that such statistics should be looked at only as “guideposts”.

In a statement on Friday, Iraq Body Count, which did a preliminary analysis of the archive, estimated that it listed 15,000 deaths that had not been previously disclosed anywhere.

There are thousands of painful anecdotes of loss about individuals and their families in the Wikileaks archive.

There were multiple “misunderstandings” at checkpoints and these were often lethal. In one, sunlight reflecting off the windshield of a car that did not slow down led to the shooting death of a mother and the wounding of three of her daughters and her husband.

The Times writes that, “according to one particularly painful entry from 2006, an Iraqi wearing a tracksuit was killed by an American sniper who later discovered that the victim was the platoon’s interpreter.”

The Wikileaks documents provide context for one of the most heinous crimes committed by U.S. soldiers, the shootings of at least 15 Iraqi civilians, including women and children in the western city of Haditha. This action, says The New York Times, “is misrepresented in the archives. The report stated that the civilians were killed by militants in a bomb attack, the same false version of the episode that was given to the news media.”

The Wikileaks documents do not detail the main causes of Iraqi deaths caused by U.S. soldiers. And, since these reports cover the period starting in 2004, they do not report on civilian deaths caused by the 2003 “Shock and Awe” bombardment preceding the U.S.-led invasion.

But research by the International Committee of the Red Cross confirms that 10 civilians die for every soldier killed in today’s wars.

Wikileaks is an international organisation that publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of otherwise unavailable documents while preserving the anonymity of sources. Its website was launched in 2006.

A member of the U.S. military, Pfc. Bradley Manning, has been accused of providing Wikileaks with the documents released in July. Numerous support groups throughout the U.S. have called on the U.S. government to release him and have decried the evidence of war crimes perpetrated by U.S. armed soldiers depicted in the logs and videos released by Wikileaks.

Protesters affirmed that if Bradley Manning is the source of the leaks, he deserves the gratitude of the entire world and should be heralded as a hero for his sacrifice.

He also has the support of Daniel Ellsberg, the Defence Department official who in 1967 leaked the so-called “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times. The top-secret documents revealed some of the untruths and deceptions that senior government officials foisted on the U.S. public to win approval for the Vietnam War.

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