By late 2003, even the Bush White House’s staunchest defenders were starting to give up on the idea that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
But WikiLeaks’ newly-released Iraq war documents reveal that for years afterward, U.S. troops continued to find chemical weapons labs, encounter insurgent specialists in toxins and uncover weapons of mass destruction.
An initial glance at the WikiLeaks war logs doesn’t reveal evidence of some massive WMD program by the Saddam Hussein regime — the Bush administration’s most (in)famous rationale for invading Iraq. But chemical weapons, especially, did not vanish from the Iraqi battlefield. Remnants of Saddam’s toxic arsenal, largely destroyed after the Gulf War, remained. Jihadists, insurgents and foreign (possibly Iranian) agitators turned to these stockpiles during the Iraq conflict — and may have brewed up their own deadly agents.
In August 2004, for instance, American forces surreptitiously purchased what they believed to be containers of liquid sulfur mustard, a toxic “blister agent” used as a chemical weapon since World War I. The troops tested the liquid, and “reported two positive results for blister.” The chemical was then “triple-sealed and transported to a secure site” outside their base.
Three months later, in northern Iraq, U.S. scouts went to
look in on a “chemical weapons” complex. “One of the bunkers has been tampered with,” they write. “The integrity of the seal [around the complex] appears intact, but it seems someone is interesting in trying to get into the bunkers.”
Meanwhile, the second battle of Fallujah was raging in Anbar province. In the southeastern corner of the city, American forces came across a “house with a chemical lab “¦ substances found are similar to ones (in lesser quantities located a previous chemical lab.” The following day, there’s a call in another part of the city for explosive experts to dispose of a “chemical cache.”
Nearly three years later, American troops were still finding WMD in the region. An armored Buffalo vehicle unearthed a cache of artillery shells “that was covered by sacks and leaves under an Iraqi Community Watch checkpoint. “The 155mm rounds are filled with an unknown liquid, and several of which are leaking a black tar-like substance.” Initial tests were inconclusive. But later, “the rounds tested positive for mustard.”
In WikiLeaks’ massive trove of nearly 392,000 Iraq war logs are hundreds of references to chemical and biological weapons. Most of those are intelligence reports or initial suspicions of WMD that don’t pan out. In July 2004, for example, U.S. forces come across a Baghdad building with gas masks, gas filters, and containers with “unknown contents” inside. Later investigation revealed those contents to be vitamins.
But even late in the war, WMDs were still being unearthed. In the summer of 2008, according to one WikiLeaked report, American troops found at least 10 rounds that tested positive for chemical agents. “These rounds were most likely left over from the [Saddam]-era regime. Based on location, these rounds may be an AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] cache. However, the rounds were all total disrepair and did not appear to have been moved for a long time.”
A small group — mostly of the political right — has long maintained that there was more evidence of a major and modern WMD program than the American people were led to believe. A few Congressmen and Senators gravitated to the idea, but it was largely dismissed as conspiratorial hooey.
The WMD diehards will likely find some comfort in these newly-WikiLeaked documents. Skeptics will note that these relatively small WMD stockpiles were hardly the kind of grave danger that the Bush administration presented in the run-up to the war.
But the more salient issue may be how insurgents and Islamic extremists (possibly with the help of Iran) attempted to use these lethal and exotic arms. As Spencer noted earlier, a January 2006 war log claims that “neuroparalytic” chemical weapons were smuggled in from Iran.
That same month, then “chemical weapons specialists” were apprehended in Balad. These “foreigners” were there specifically “to support the chemical weapons operations.” The following month, an intelligence report refers to a “chemical weapons expert” that “provided assistance with the gas weapons.” What happened to that specialist, the WikiLeaked document doesn’t say.
As the insurgency raged in Iraq, U.S. troops struggling to fight a shadowy enemy killed civilians, witnessed their Iraqi partners abuse detainees and labored to reduce Iran’s influence over the fighting.
None of these phenomena are unfamiliar to observers of the Iraq war. But this afternoon, the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks released a trove of nearly 392,000 U.S. military reports from Iraq that bring a new depth and detail to the horrors of one of America’s most controversial wars ever. We’re still digging through the just-released documents, but here’s a quick overview of what they contain.
(Our sister blog Threat Level looks at how Friday’s document dump could affect Bradley Manning, who’s already charged in other WikiLeaks releases.)
It Was Iran’s War, Too
No one would accuse WikiLeaks of being pro-war. Not when the transparency group titled its single most famous leak “Collateral Murder.” Not when its founder, Julian Assange, said that its trove of reports from the Afghan conflict suggested evidence for thousands of American “war crimes.”
So it’s more than a little ironic that, with its newest document dump from the Iraq campaign, WikiLeaks may have just bolstered one of the Bush administration’s most controversial claims about the Iraq war: that Iran supplied many of the Iraq insurgency’s deadliest weapons and worked hand-in-glove with some of its most lethal militias.
The documents indicate that Iran was a major combatant in the Iraq war, as its elite Quds Force trained Iraqi Shiite insurgents and imported deadly weapons like the shape-charged Explosively Formed Projectile bombs into Iraq for use against civilians, Sunni militants and U.S. troops.
A report from 2006 claims “neuroparalytic” chemical weapons from Iran were smuggled into Iraq. (It’s one of many, many documents recounting WMD efforts in Iraq.) Others indicate that Iran flooded Iraq with guns and rockets, including the Misagh-1 surface-to-air missile, .50 caliber rifles, rockets and much more.
As the New York Times observes, Iranian agents plotted to kidnap U.S. troops from out of their Humvees — something that occurred in Karbala in 2007, leaving five U.S. troops dead. (It’s still not totally clear if the Iranians were responsible.)
High Civilian Death Tolls
Over 66,000 deaths classified as “civilians” are listed in the documents, which span the years between 2004 and 2009. According to an initial assessment by the Iraq Body Count, an organization that tallies reports of civilian casualties, that’s 15,000 more dead Iraqi civilians than the United States has previously acknowledged.
“This data should never have been withheld from the public,” Iraq Body Count told the Guardian.
In one incident highlighted by The New York Times, Marines who couldn’t get a car carrying an Iraqi family to stop at a Fallujah checkpoint after warning them with a flare opened fire on the car, killing a woman and wounding her husband and two children. Confusion at checkpoints was a common feature of the Iraq war, placing U.S. troops who didn’t speak Arabic in a murky situation of judging who posed a threat to them.
Iraqi Detainee Abuse
The United States spent billions to train and equip Iraqi security forces, a mission that continues to this day. But while under U.S. tutelage, Iraqi soldiers and police abused detainees in their custody. And even after the 2004 Abu Ghraib detainee-abuse scandal, U.S. troops sometimes tolerated accounts of Iraqi abuse, writing “no investigation is necessary” in one case.
That wasn’t uniformly the case: In a 2005 report, U.S. troops discovered “a hand cranked generator with wire clamps” at an Iraqi police station in Baghdad where a detainee claimed to have been brutalized. The report says the Americans took the generator as evidence and reported the incident to a two-star general — but it doesn’t specify if the general was American or Iraqi.
As expected, the Pentagon denounced WikiLeaks’ disclosure of the nearly 400,000 documents. “We deplore Wikileaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies,” e-mails Geoff Morrell, spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “We know terrorist organizations have been mining the leaked Afghan documents for information to use against us and this Iraq leak is more than four times as large. By disclosing such sensitive information, Wikileaks continues to put at risk the lives of our troops, their coalition partners and those Iraqis and Afghans working with us. The only responsible course of action for Wikileaks at this point is to return the stolen material and expunge it from their websites as soon as possible.”
WikiLeaks appears to have learned from the criticism of its last document dump, however. According to the Guardian, which has pored through the documents under a press blackout for weeks, WikiLeaks didn’t release all the information in an Iraq-deaths database, in order to protect the identities of Iraqis who worked with the United States — a correction for something that it didn’t sufficiently do when releasing U.S. military documents from Afghanistan this summer.
We’re still digging through the documents. We’ll bring you more soon. And in comments, tell us what you’re seeing — and what you’re interested in learning more about.