War Logs exposed a sad truth

By Geoffrey Alderman, November 4, 2010

Every cloud has at least one silver lining. Consider, for example, the recent international commotion occasioned by the release, on the WikiLeaks website, of the so-called Iraqi War Logs - around 400,000 documents relating to allied operations in Iraq from 2002 to 2009.

Depending on your viewpoint, WikiLeaks has taken the power of the internet to new heights, or plunged it to new depths. What is undeniable is that its activities have demonstrated a new and brutal truth: it is infinitely more difficult for a government - indeed any agency - to function in secret if it relies on the internet for its day-to-day operations.

Paper-based archives embodied a certain, though actually modest, level of security. The development of photography undermined this particular comfort zone, and the invention of the photocopier and the fax machine inflicted further damage.

But these technologies depended upon the physical movement of actual pieces of paper. The internet has done away with all that. Documents are created digitally and can be moved electronically across continents in a matter
of seconds. You can password-protect, encode and encrypt as much as you like. The hacker will get through - if not always then at least with alarming frequency.

But far more dangerous from the point of view of the secretive government is the estranged employee. To the whistleblower, the internet has come as manna from heaven. And WikiLeaks, which boasts that it is "an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking," is the whistleblower's paradise.

The majority of casualties came from inter-ethnic conflict

The Iraqi War Logs consist of field reports originating from within the armed forces of the USA. As you read them you need to remember that, for the most part, these reports are unconfirmed accounts written up hastily on the battlefield. They are bound, therefore, to contain inaccuracies and exaggerations. But from them certain broad conclusions can be drawn.

The first is that previous estimates of the number of casualties that resulted from 'the troubles' in Iraq need to be revised upwards, perhaps to as many as 150,000.

The second is that the overwhelming majority of these casualties resulted from inter-ethnic conflict, not as a result of allied military operations. As I wrote at the time, the allied invasion that led to the removal of Saddam caused less than 1,000 deaths.

Almost all the subsequent, mainly civilian casualties came about as a result of Arab waging war against Arab. As the Iraqi News Network itself concluded after the release of the War
Logs, "the WikiLeaks documents revealed very important secrets, but the most painful among them are not those that focus on the occupier, but those that reveal what the Iraqi forces,
Iraqi government and politicians did against their citizens."

The third conclusion we must draw is that the much maligned president George W. Bush turns out to have been right when he claimed that the pacification of Iraq was being hideously complicated by Iranian mischief-making. The logs prove that at the height of the post-Saddam civil war, the Tehran regime - through its Revolutionary Guards and its Lebanese proxy Hizbollah - was providing covert training to Shi'ite militias, whom it supplied with copious amounts of lethal ordnance, ranging from magnetic bombs to surface-to-air missiles.

When the logs were first released, the knee-jerk reaction of the media was to point the finger at Washington, and to a lesser extent at London, arguing that the logs proved Anglo-American complicity in torture and other so-called abuses in Iraq.

Whilst I do not necessarily excuse complicity in torture, I must point out that shooting at
a civilian car that fails to stop at a checkpoint is hardly an abuse - there were even such authorised incidents here in the UK during 1939-45.

The logs make fascinating reading. But while it is probably too much to expect the UN to launch a Goldstone-type inquiry into alleged Anglo-American war crimes in Iraq, it's just conceivable that the story told by the logs will assist in redressing the media's obsession with Israel and with Israel's regional role. WikiLeaks has been much berated in certain quarters for its irresponsibility in making very public that which was intended to remain private.

But, quite apart from their intrinsic truths, world reaction to the logs demonstrates just how grossly Israel was treated over civilian deaths during Operation Cast Lead. And the logs underpin another fact: that regional stability in the Middle East is threatened not by the Jewish state of Israel but by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Last updated: 5:12pm, November 4 2010