BAGHDAD — The trove of leaked secret U.S. military documents filtered its way through top levels in Iraq on Saturday, with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki saying they could be as evidence in court cases and the U.S. denying that it turned a blind eye to torture.
For ordinary Iraqis, it didn't appear to have sunk in that the 400,000 documents, released Friday by the WikiLeaks website, contained details of the violent deaths of thousands of people that could finally provide answers and even evidence for some of the tragedies of the war.
The documents include indications of widespread Iraqi abuse of prisoners seemingly unaddressed by U.S. forces, a much higher Iraqi death toll than had been admitted, including among Iraqis killed at U.S. checkpoints, and fears of Iranian influence.
The U.S. military said it won't comment on the specifics of the documents, which it maintains remain secret despite now being in the public domain.
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The deputy commander of U.S. forces in Iraq denied the implication in many of the documents that U.S. forces witnessing abuse or torture of detainees by their Iraqi captors had turned a blind eye.
"It is not a gray area," Lt. General Robert Cone told the Monitor in an interview Saturday. "We have an obligation when we see something like this that it is reported, and it is dealt with with our Iraqi counterparts."
He said he hadn't seen the documents.
Cone, who's in charge of ground forces in Iraq, said the U.S. military closely tracks Iraqi civilian deaths. Previous military commands have said they don't keep figures of Iraqi casualties, in what has been widely interpreted as an attempt to downplay the number of Iraqis killed during the war that was to liberate them.
"It's a tragedy the loss of life in any war . . . I can tell you we track civilian casualties today in this headquarters, and we work very closely with our Iraqi headquarters to make sure they are tracking civilian casualties," Cone said.
A British-based anti-war group, Iraq Body Count, said Saturday that it's raising its estimate of Iraqi civilians killed during the war to 122,000 from about 107,000 as a result of the leaked information.
The files, mostly comprised of "significant activities" recorded daily by the military for any significant development, are the raw, ground-level data often later revised. They provide, though, a picture of Iraq through the eyes of the U.S. military on the ground through the darkest days of the war.
The documents span almost the entire length of the war, including the past four years under Maliki, when sectarian violence almost ripped the country apart.
In a statement Saturday, Maliki's office said the timing of the leaks was questionable, implying that it was motivated by his political enemies. The Shiite prime minister has struggled for the past seven months to keep his job, demanding a recount of votes that left him two seats behind his nearest rival and now trying to patch together a coalition government.
The statement said the documentation of killings by private U.S. security contractors such as Blackwater, accused of a shooting spree that killed 17 civilians in 2007 in an incident that became a symbol of American brutality, could be used in court cases against the company, now called Xe Services.
"We stress once again the necessity of taking these documents into consideration to achieve justice for our citizens who might have been the victims of their unbridled aggression," it read.
Maliki's office said it would examine politically explosive allegations of torture and killings by Iraqi security forces as accusations "that must be looked into cautiously and investigated."
Maliki's main rival, the Iraqiya coalition, said the reports reinforced the need to curb his powers. His own Shiite partners have called for changes that would restrict his power to act unilaterally — a main complaint of his former allies.
The documents, which were released too late to be in Saturday newspapers in Iraq, attracted less attention than expected among ordinary Iraqis, with many of them saying they're unsurprised by any accounts of abuse by either Americans or Iraqis.
(McClatchy special correspondent Mohammad al Dulaimy contributed to this article.)
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