In the biggest official files leak in history nearly 400,000 Iraq war logs reveal the massive scale of civilian deaths and new torture allegations following an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches.
Channel 4 News has accessed the data in the classified documents via The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and WikiLeaks but has been unable to independently verify their authenticity.
Warning: You may find some of the details in this report and the accompanying video disturbing.
In total 391,832 individual logs – written by American troops in combat – tell the story of the Iraq war during the period 2004 to 2009.
The documents were leaked by whistleblowers’ website WikiLeaks and obtained by Channel 4 News via The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) ahead of an exclusive report in Iraq’s Secret War Files on Channel 4’s Dispatches on Monday at 8pm.
They catalogue every aspect of the conflict; from checkpoint “escalations of force” and apparent surrender killings to the rising profile of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The files contain precise locations and the identities of civilians, suspected insurgents and the troops involved. Their names have been redacted for their safety.
Statement from US Pentagon:
We deplore WikiLeaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies.
We know terrorist organizations have been mining the leaked Afghan documents for information to use against us and this Iraq leak is more than four times as large. By disclosing such sensitive information, WikiLeaks continues to put at risk the lives of our troops, their coalition partners and those Iraqis and Afghans working with us.
The only responsible course of action for Wikileaks at this point is to return the stolen material and expunge it from their websites as soon as possible.
Civilian cost of war
Retired general Tommy Franks, a former commander of US Central Command who led the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, said in 2002: “We don’t do body counts“.
In fact his troops on the ground in both conflicts were required to record deaths and the leaked Iraq war files reveal that the civilian toll could be 15,000 higher for the six year period than previous estimates suggest.
Secret war files: Afghanistan to Iraq – special report
In all 109,032 deaths are logged in the leaked Iraq “Sigacts” (significant activities), via the military acronym “KIA” for “killed in action”. Of these deaths, the logs show 66,089 were civilians – just under two-thirds – in the six year period.
The logs show that US troops were killing significantly more civilians than insurgents at checkpoints. Under the military’s special rules of engagement, known as “escalation of force” (EOF), a vehicle approaching a military checkpoint is required to slow down, stop and be searched.
A cold analytical eye on this clearly, I think, indicates that far too many Iraqi civilians are being killed for no reason. Toby Dodge
In EOF incidents between 2004 and 2009 the data shows that four times as many civilians (681) were killed at checkpoints as insurgents. In one log we can see that a doctor driving a pregnant woman to hospital, at speed, was shot. Analysis by TBIJ shows 13 coalition troops were killed in these incidents.
Toby Dodge, a political scientist and former adviser to General Petraeus and Tony Blair, told Channel 4’s Dispatches: “A cold analytical eye on this clearly, I think, indicates that far too many Iraqi civilians are being killed for no reason.”
Read more – Afghanistan: secret war files raise questions over civilian deaths
Air attacks, Hellfire missiles and ‘surrender killings’
The logs reveal the changing nature of the Iraq war following the appointment of General David Petraeus (now commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) as commanding general of the multi-national force in Iraq in January 2007.
Four years after the invasion, with the number of civilian deaths spiralling and al-Qaeda activity on the rise, Iraq was close to a state of anarchy with an escalating daily tally of truck bombings and suicide blasts.
General Petraeus launched a new strategy and called it the “surge”. Its aim was to target the insurgents behind these attacks.
In his opening statement before a Senate hearing on January 23 2007, Petraeus said: “The security of the population, especially in Baghdad, and in partnership with the Iraqi Security Forces, will be the focus of the military effort.”
But the key aspect of this new phase was a massive increase in the use of air power, in particular Hellfire missile attacks. Analysis of the logs by TBIJ shows 80 per cent of Hellfire missiles were fired after the start of the Petraeus surge.
Iraq secret files: the war in pictures