Under the headline “Leaked Reports Detail Iran’s Aid for Iraqi Militias“, the New York Times reports that documents from the Wikileaks Iraq War Logs “provide a ground-level look – at least as seen by American units in the field and the United States’ military intelligence – at the shadow war between the United States and Iraqi militias backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.”
The Iraq War Logs consist of tens of thousands of classified military documents recently made public by the organization Wikileaks. In addition to being published at the Wikileaks website, the documents were made available to the New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, and Der Spiegel. Their publication follows a similar release of documents by Wikileaks pertaining to the war in Afghanistan.
Despite the headline, however, there is very little new information reported, and the evidence for the claims made is thin. The Pentagon has long claimed that Iran has interfered in Iraq by supporting insurgent groups and exerting its political influence in the country. U.S. officials, when making these claims, never explain why it is okay for the U.S. to interfere militarily and politically in this country on the other side of the globe, but bad for Iran to similarly seek to involve itself in the affairs of its neighbor. The government has moreover failed to substantiate many its claims of Iranian interference in Iraq, and the documents the Times cites from the Iraq War Logs provide no such confirmation.
The first report the Times cites is an intelligence report “saying that the Iraqi militant, Azhar al-Dulaimi, had been trained by the Middle East’s masters of the dark arts of paramilitary operations: the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Iran and Hezbollah, its Lebanese ally.” The report stated that al-Dulaimi was tasked by a senior Jaish al-Mahdi (known more commonly as the Mahdi Army) commander to kidnap American soldiers. Al-Dulaimi was chosen, according to the intelligence report, “because he allegedly trained in Iran on how to conduct precision, military style kidnappings” and “reportedly obtained his training from Hizballah operatives near Qum, Iran, who were under the supervision of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (ICRC-QF) officers in July 2006″ (emphasis added).
There is no indication either in the document or in the Times article of the source of this allegation. The same document at the Wikileaks website is heavily redacted, including the name of Azhar al-Dulaimi, but it does show that the reporting unit as being “MNC-I C2 JOC”. MNC-I is the military acronym for the Multi-National Corp-Iraq, C2 is the combined or coalition forces intelligence staff, and JOC is the Joint Operations Center.
The leaked documents also detail additional information on the widespread abuse of detainees held under Iraqi custody, including with the participation of intelligence officers. The Times notes that “while some abuse cases were investigated by the Americans, most noted in the archive seemed to have been ignored”, and official policy stated that “if US forces were not involved in the detainee abuse, no further investigation will be conducted until directed by HHQ.” The Times notes that “In many cases, the order appeared to allow American soldiers to turn a blind eye to abuse of Iraqis on Iraqis.” Furthermore, U.S. forces themselves also “did sometimes use the threat of abuse by Iraqi authorities to get information out of prisoners.” Any so-called “intelligence” obtained from interrogations through torture or other abuse, or through the threat of abuse, would be suspect and unreliable.
While the Times reports “Iran’s support for Iraqi militias” as fact throughout the article, it also at times includes caveats. It adds, for example, that “While some of the raw information cannot be verified, it is nonetheless broadly consistent with other classified American intelligence and public accounts by American military officials.” While this comment is apparently intended both to provide a caveat to its reporting and to convince readers of the credibility of the reports, the Times does not explain how it knows the leaked documents are “broadly consistent” with other U.S. intelligence information when that information is classified. It does not, for example, explain either that Times reporters themselves have seen such classified information, or that this is merely the assertion of military officials. Readers are thus expected to accept this statement from the Times solely on faith.
As for being “broadly consistent” with public accounts by military officials, this is a meaningless statement from which no conclusions about the accuracy of the reports may be drawn. After all, the infamous documents purporting to show that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had sought to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger were “broadly consistent” with public claims about Iraq’s possession and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but they were fabrications nevertheless.
The Times‘ summary of the leaked intelligence report states that a month after this threat assessment was made, four American soldiers were killed in “an abortive effort to kidnap American troops” in Baghdad. “An American spokesman said that Mr. Dulaimi’s fingerprints were found on the getaway car”, the Times notes. Although the Times cites details of that attack from the leaked documents, no explanation is offered for how the U.S. or allied forces came to be in possession of the car if it was used successfully to escape the scene. Nor is there an explanation of how U.S. or allied forces were able to obtain Dulaimi’s fingerprints to compare them to those found in the car.
The Times cites another document reporting an incident on September 7, 2006, in which U.S. and Iranian troops exchanged fire. As the Times relates the incident, “an Iranian solider who aimed a rocket-propelled grenade launcher at an American platoon trying to leave the border area was shot and killed by an American soldier with a .50-caliber machine gun.” The U.S. forces were “concerned that Iranian border forces were trying to surround and detain them”, and came “under fire from the Iranians even when the Americans soldiers were ‘well inside Iraqi territory'”.
According to that document, U.S. and Iraqi Army forces were patrolling the border “to identify key infiltration routes into Iraq”. The Iraqi Army trucks in the lead met Iranian soldiers near the border, and left their vehicles to talk to them. The U.S. forces in the rear sent an interpreter to find out what was going on, and he reported back “that everything was OK and the Iranians wanted to have a meeting to talk about the border.” The Iraqi forces were “showing pictures to Iranian soldiers and having tea with the Iranians.” The interpreter at one point returned to warn the Americans that if they tried to leave, the Iranians would open fire, and the document records their perception that “The Iranians were clearly intent upon encircling the patrol.” Before they could leave, Iranian forces “started to engage the patrol” and the order was given “to return fire” and retreat. The document states that an Iranian armed with an RPG was “trying to engage”, but was killed by the American forces, who then broke contact and retreated, taking “indirect fire” even after “well inside Iraqi territory”. It’s not clear whether this RPG gunner was “trying to engage” after hostilities had already been initiated, or whether the perception of the Americans that he was “trying to engage” was itself considered the initiation of hostilities. The Iraqi forces were left behind and detained by the Iranians. An update in the document notes that all five Iraqi Army soldiers and an Iraqi border policeman had been “released from Iranian custody” and that the interpreter was “to be released with in next 48 hours” [sic].
This border incident is not news, but was reported in the U.S. media in 2007. A U.S. Army report obtained by U.S. News & World Report acknowledged that it was not known whether the incident occurred on the Iraqi or Iranian side of the border, whether U.S. forces had crossed the border, or whether the attack on U.S. forces was un-provoked. It said that the exact circumstances were still being investigated.
The newly leaked document sheds little more light on these questions than the Army report. While it states that Iranian forces “engaged” the Americans, who then returned fire, it then notes explicitly that the RPG gunner was “trying to engage” them was killed, apparently before he had actually fired on the Americans. It thus remains unclear which side actually opened fire first. The document characterizes the Americans as being nervous while their more comfortable Iraqi counterparts had tea with the Iranians. The Army report had noted that as the Americans fled, the Iraqis stayed behind “for reasons unknown”, but from information given in the newly leaked report, it is clear that the Iraqis did not regard the Iranian soldiers as a threat.
The Times cites a third leaked document asserting that “Iranian intelligence agents within the Badr Corps and Jaish al-Mahdi, two Shiite militias, ‘have recently been influencing attacks on ministry officials in Iraq'”. The same document on the Wikileaks website shows that it also originated in the Multi-National Corp-Iraq Joint Operations Command. It’s not clear whether either threat report originated from interrogations of detainees, or from some other sources, but it is well known that the Bush administration authorized aggressive interrogation techniques, including some amounting to torture, such as waterboarding, to extract “intelligence” information out of prisoners.
The Times continues, stating that “The provision of Iranian rockets, mortars and bombs to Shiite militants has also been a major concern”, and cites another report from 2005 recounting “an effort by the Iraqi border police to stop the smuggling of weapons from Iran”. That report stated that in an effort to stop “insurgent smuggling activities”, the border police “disrupted the movement and recovered a quantity of bomb-making equipment, including explosively formed projectiles (EFPs).” According to the source who apparently tipped off the police, “the smugglers would move from Iran into Iraq by boat”, but he had “no information … about individuals involved or locations within Iran that the explosives may have come from.”
The Mahdi Army planned attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad “using rockets and mortar shells shipped by the Quds Force, according to a report on Dec. 1, 2006. On Nov. 28, the report noted, the Mahdi Army commander, Ali al-Sa’idi, ‘met Iranian officials reported to be IRGC officers at the border to pick up three shipments of rockets.’ A Dec. 27, 2008 report noted one instance when American soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division captured several suspected members of the Jaish al-Mahdi militia and seized a weapons cache, which also included several diaries, including one that explained ‘why detainee joined JAM and how they traffic materials from Iran.'”
The Times does not include the first of these two documents among its own collection on its website, and the version available on the Wikileaks website is heavily redacted. The reporting unit was again the Joint Operations Command, and it’s again unclear what the source for this information was. The later report, which is available at the Times website, notes that the individual in question was a detainee in custody of the Iraq Army, but offers no indication that anything in the diary pointed to involvement of the Iranian government, military, or intelligence in the smuggling operations referred to.
Other reports cited by the Times noted merely that militants “have returned from Iran” or “reportedly traveled to Iran”. One individual was “suspected of collecting information on CF [coalition forces] and passing them to Iranian intelligence agents” (emphasis added).
Such is the nature of the newest information publically available purporting to “Detail Iran’s Aid for Iraqi Militias”.