BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq vowed on Saturday to probe allegations that police or soldiers committed crimes in the country’s sectarian war, after WikiLeaks released classified U.S. files that revealed prisoner abuse by Iraqi forces.
The flood of files mainly containing in-the-field action reports from lower level U.S. military officers detailed gruesome cases of prisoner abuse that were known to U.S. authorities but not investigated by them.
“The government will show no leniency when it comes to the rights of its citizens,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s office said, while also decrying the timing of the reports while Iraqi political groups are trying to negotiate a new government.
Iraqi officials including Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said many of the cases mentioned in the U.S. military documents appeared to be old. Nevertheless, a committee would vet them.
Thousands of officials were purged in Iraq’s Interior Ministry after revelations that mainly Sunni prisoners were being held in secret prisons near the 2006/07 height of the sectarian slaughter unleashed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The ministry at one time was heavily infiltrated by Shi‘ite militia, some of which used police uniforms as a cloak for running death squads when all-out war broke out between once dominant Sunnis and majority Shi‘ites propelled into power by the fall of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
“We will not turn a blind eye to any of these matters,” said Lieutenant General Hussein Kamal, a deputy interior minister.
“Everyone responsible for any crimes will be prosecuted and justice will take its course,” Kamal told Reuters.
The Pentagon criticized the publication of the secret reports -- the largest security breach of its kind in U.S. military history, far surpassing the group’s release of more than 70,000 Afghan war files in July.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the documents showed evidence of war crimes.
The Iraq war files touched on other themes, including well-known U.S. concerns about Iranian support for Iraqi militias. The documents, which spanned 2003 to 2009, also detailed 66,081 civilian deaths in the Iraqi conflict, including civilians killed at U.S. checkpoints, WikiLeaks said.
The allegations of prisoner abuse could embarrass Maliki’s Shi‘ite-led government as he seeks support for a second term.
Iraqi leaders have yet to agree on the formation of a new government seven months after an election that produced no outright winner. Maliki’s ambitions to retain his job are opposed by the Sunni-backed cross-sectarian Iraqiya alliance that won the most seats in the new 325-seat parliament, and by some of his erstwhile Shi‘ite allies.
The war files released by WikiLeaks also covered periods when others were in charge, including Iraqiya’s leader, former premier Iyad Allawi, and ex-Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
Maliki’s office said the release of the documents while negotiations over a government had not yet been concluded was suspicious timing, and accused some unnamed media organizations of trying to use them to attack the outgoing government.
Media organizations given advance access to the database concluded that U.S. forces had effectively turned a blind eye to torture and abuse of prisoners by Iraqi forces.
The U.S. military lost the right to detain Iraqis under a bilateral security pact that came into force in 2009 and thousands have since been handed over to Iraqi authorities.
Prisons are overcrowded and many detainees spend months behind bars waiting for trial because of an overburdened justice system. Iraqi courts depend on confessions for convictions, not evidence, leading to frequent allegations of torture.
Iraq’s Justice Ministry denied that torture took place.
“There is no torture, no abuse, in Iraqi prisons,” said a deputy justice minister, Busho Ibrahim.
Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by Peter Graff