Superbombs and Secret Jails: What to Look for in WikiLeaks’ Iraq Docs

October 18, 2010

The Afghanistan war logs were just the beginning. Coming as early as next week, WikiLeaks plans to disclose a new trove of military documents, this time covering some of the toughest years of the Iraq war. Up to 400,000 reports from 2004 to 2009 could be revealed this time — five times the size of the Afghan document dump.

It’s a perilous time in Iraq. Politicians are stitching together a new government. U.S. troops are supposed to leave by next December.

Pentagon leaders were furious over the Afghanistan documents, but the American public largely greeted them with yawns. Iraqis might not be so sanguine.

It’s hard to imagine Iraq will fall back into widespread chaos over the disclosures. But they can’t be good for the United States, as it tries to create a new postwar relationship with Iraq, or for the 50,000 U.S. troops and diplomats still over there.

We don’t know what’s in the documents. But here’s what we’ll be looking to find in the trove — and some unanswered questions that the documents might address.

The Rise of Roadside Bombs

Iraq is more a war. It was a proving ground for today’s signature weapon: the improvised explosive device. Insurgents raided Iraq’s military weapons silos to jury-rig devices set off by a simple cellphone.

Later, they bent bomb casings into cones to form the deadlier Explosively Formed Projectile, essentially a bomb that shoots a jet of molten metal into and through an armored vehicle.

Conflicting reports credited the “superbombs” to Iran, or not. Look to the WikiLeaked documents for supporting evidence either way.

Early on, the military found that its jammers — devices emitting frequencies to block those believed to detonate bombs — didn’t work. Worse, rumor was the jammers actually set the bombs off themselves.

We could be about to learn a lot more about how U.S. forces endured the first new bomb threat of the 21st century.

Abu Ghraib and Missing Jails

The Abu Ghraib detainee-abuse scandal was one of the worst strategic debacles in recent U.S. history. Aides to Gen. David Petraeus candidly said it inspired foreign fighters to join the Iraq insurgency.

Only one prison scandal came to light after Abu Ghraib: torture at the Special Ops facility known as “Camp Nama.” But journalists lost visibility into how the United States ran its detention complex in Iraq. Only in 2007, when Petraeus put Maj. Gen. Doug Stone in charge of rehabbing captured insurgents, did any sunlight return.

What happened for three years in the U.S. jails where tens of thousands of Iraqis were held?

Lost U.S. Guns

The Government Accountability Office reported in 2007 that the military had simply lost nearly 200,000 AK-47s and pistols it intended for Iraqi soldiers and police. Its documentation was a mess in 2004 and ‘05, when Petraeus ran the training mission. Many of those guns are believed to have made their way to the black market and to insurgents.

The leaks may shed some light on how thousands of guns fell off the back of a truck.


Ethnic Cleansing of Baghdad

Shiite death squads and Sunni insurgents each preyed on the other side’s civilians in 2005 and 2006. More than a million Baghdadis were displaced from their homes in a massive demographic shift between March 2006 and July 2007.

It’s never been clear how much the U.S. military knew about the cleansing. Low-level units watched it happen. And American psychological-operations troops certainly played on the religious splits to win local support.

But Gen. George Casey, then the top general in Iraq and now the Army’s chief of staff, has never answered questions about it. If the logs document the cleansing, he may have to speak up.


As much as the air war in Iraq became defined by the “Shock and Awe” bombing raids of its opening salvo, from the start there were at least ten types of unmanned planes the United States used for surveillance — from the Marines’ Dragon Eye to the Air Force’s iconic Predator.

But how did they prove their value to soldiers and Marines in Iraq? Gen. Petraeus says drones were crucial to the spring 2008 battle in Sadr City, finding targets for the troops below. And a secret task force used drone-fired missiles to kill bomb-planting insurgents.

What other spy gear was employed? Bob Woodward claims a “secret weapon” helped turned the war’s tide.

Could we see hints of it in the new WikiLeaks?

The Air War And More ‘Collateral Murders’

WikiLeaks makes no apologies for its antiwar agenda. Its Iraq and Afghanistan disclosures are designed to weaken support for both wars.

That’s why we should expect to see a lot more material like its gruesome April video showing an Apache helicopter killing people — including a Reuters photographer — who didn’t threaten its crew. The video suggests that other combat aircraft in the confusing urban environments of Iraq might have also engaged in similar mistargeting.

If there are accounts of civilian casualties from what used to be an intense, violent air war — including, perhaps, hidden military documentation about the so-called “Collateral Murder” incident — WikiLeaks is going to publish them.


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