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.

Weapons Cache

A photo included with the New York Times article includes a caption stating as fact that Iran has supplied Iraqi militants with EFPs, rockets, and magnetic bombs, despite the scant evidence it provides for these claims (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images, for The New York Times)

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].