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World

WikiLeaks and our perceptions of a ‘dirty war’

The criticism coming out of Washington and Baghdad aimed at the publication by WikiLeaks of secret Iraq war documents is hypocritical, writes Rainer Sollich of DW’s Africa/Middle East Program.

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Actually the secret files made public by WikiLeaks offer little new information. At the very latest, since Abu Ghraib, the international community had come to the realization that the war in Iraq was a ‘dirty war'. There were killings. There was torture. Mercenaries operated as brutal aggressors. Shi'ites and Sunnis took turns massacring each other.

That one of the most barbarous dictators was overthrown in the process has practically been forgotten.

Instead, the image of a dirty war has now been even more enduringly anchored in our collective consciousness. Thanks to the disclosures made by WikiLeaks, we have perhaps been given a more accurate insight into the course of events and a more precise figure on the brutal human rights violations and number of deaths.

According to the files, more than 150,000 people were killed in Iraq between 2004 and 2009, if we can believe the documents from US military sources.

Documents appear to be credible

Can we believe them? Yes, we can. The documents appear, in principle, to be credible. However, it is important to treat them for what they are: one source among many, and a one-sided one at that, originally intended for internal, domestic consumption.

Not everything in these documents can be characterized as a bitter truth intended to be camouflaged from public view.

This or that bit of information could be a half truth or ‘pseudo-fact'; for example, when the person reporting draws the wrong conclusions due to their subjective perspective, or wishes to hide personal lapses or errors from superiors.

Few things in life are more regularly “air brushed” or openly manipulated than reports to supervising superiors, and this is very probably no different for the US Army in Iraq.

WikiLeaks also needs monitoring

Critical questions, therefore, are certainly permissible: Did WikiLeaks do everything possible when vetting the documents to ensure that no human lives will be put at risk? We can only hope and wait.

And, by the way: where are the checks and balances on WikiLeaks?

The group is going to have to accept questions like these - just as traditional mass media or outlets like Facebook and Youtube have done - in view of the fact that its political muscle has grown significantly.

They all shoulder a major responsibility, without ever having been elected. Of course, it also depends on who is asking the question and with what motive.

The criticism of WikiLeaks, expressed by Washington and Baghdad, is hypocritical.

Both are concerned about their reputations. US President Barack Obama only appears to be in a comfortable position. He cannot really sit back and claim that all the missteps and consequences are the fault of his predecessor, George W. Bush. In the selective perceptions of many people – and not just in the Arab world – the United States is once again on the pillory.

Files dicey for Iraqi leader

The publication of the documents, however, is just as much of a blow to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He now stands there in public as a political leader who condones torture, including the abuse of supporters of political and religious groups, whom, for the last seven months, he has been trying to win over as coalition partners in a new government.

Not surprisingly, al-Maliki suspects intrigue behind the WikiLeak revelations. He knows that the publication of new, shocking details could cost him his political career.

In as far as the documents are not proven to be forgeries or seriously flawed – for which there is no evidence at the moment – then the blame for them lies with him and George W. Bush – and not with WikiLeaks.

As with Vietnam decades ago, the same holds true for the war in Iraq today: Dirty details need to be thoroughly evaluated and dirty truths brought to light with no holds barred. The people of Iraq, in particular, deserve nothing less.

Author; Rainer Sollich (gb)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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