Details of Iranian involvement in Iraq and abuses by the country's army and police, revealed in leaked wartime documents, shows the government may be unable to provide the security needed for the U.S. to leave, analysts said.
The revelations contradict claims by the Obama administration that the country is prepared for the U.S. military to leave at the end of next year, said Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington.
"We've staked our claim for withdrawal on the Iraqi security forces being capable of standing up as we stand down," Berman said in a telephone interview today. "We really need to impose" better governance first, he said.
President Barack Obama is counting on calmer conditions and the creation of a stable coalition government to ease the way for the remaining 50,000 U.S. troops to leave next year, as called for in a security agreement with Iraq. The State Department is slated to take over the task of helping the Iraqi government strengthen its institutions, including the police.
The 400,000 classified U.S. military documents released yesterday by WikiLeaks.org detail Iranian aid to Iraqi militias bent on destabilizing the government and abuse of prisoners by the Iraqi security forces that are taking over from U.S. troops.
The documents also show 15,000 previously unreported civilian deaths, according to Iraq Body Count, a group that tracks civilians killed in the conflict.
Killing With Impunity
The documents, which include military field reports from 2004 to 2009, mostly confirm what many experts and analysts already knew about the war in Iraq. Human rights groups and the U.S. State Department's annual human rights report also had documented widespread extrajudicial killings committed with "virtual impunity."
Yet the leaks add detail with descriptions of soldiers killing civilians, including children, and security forces abusing prisoners.
The documents showed that Iran has spent years trying to destabilize the U.S.-supported Iraqi government by training and providing weapons to Iraqi Shiite militias. U.S. officials as far back as 2004 asserted that Iran was interfering in Iraq.
"This seems to prove a degree of involvement by Iran that many, including myself I must say, thought had been exaggerated by the administration," said Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Berman said Iran, which fought an eight-year war with its neighbor in the 1980s, is "working to keep Iraq weak and fragmented."
While the release of the documents isn't likely to change the U.S. plans to withdraw from Iraq, it may affect the internal politics there, said David Bender, an analyst at Eurasia Group, a global political risk consulting firm.
The reports in the documents that U.S. forces killed civilians could force Maliki to demand that U.S. troops pull out of the country entirely next year, rather than retaining a small force to promote stability, as officials had expected, Bender said.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who negotiated the agreement for the military exit, said Maliki told him at the time that the government probably would ask for an extension to keep American soldiers there longer. The U.S. military now mostly provides advice and assistance to its Iraqi counterparts.
Retired Army Major General Paul Eaton, who commanded the training of Iraqi military forces in 2003-2004, said the documents about Iraqi violence against their own countrymen might aid in national reconciliation.
They may reflect on the depictions of Iraqi-on-Iraqi killings and torture and say "'we have looked into the abyss -- how do we avoid it?'" Eaton said.
The U.S. military will hand off to the State Department in less than a year the task of training Iraqi police and helping build the structures they need to function.
State Department Inexperience
Anthony Cordesman, senior defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he's concerned the State Department has never handled a police training mission of that size and that the Iraqi justice system is even further behind.
"We will create, if these police programs are successful, a police without creating a justice system," Cordesman told an Iraq forum at CSIS in Washington last week.
The issue of how to handle abuses by security forces in Iraq still doesn't get the level of attention that it should within the Iraqi government, said Patricia DeGennaro, a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and an expert on Afghanistan and Iraq at the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine Command Center for Intelligence.
"There still are a lot of challenges there, a lot of people working independently without a lot of oversight," DeGennaro said.
The leaked reports of abuses also risk weakening the Iraqi government, Cordesman said in a telephone interview today. Abuses by their own fellow citizens may resonate more strongly than those by Americans, he said.
Iraqi Political Reaction
"You have to watch how the Iraqi media cover this and whether it gets picked up in Iraqi political rhetoric and in sermons" in mosques, Cordesman said. "The next 10 days are a measure as to whether it's a speed bump or becomes a serious issue."
The U.S. is assessing the documents for their potential damage, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, told a London press conference yesterday that a team of specialists removed names and specific locations that could endanger lives.
Pentagon officials remain concerned that the leaked documents could endanger U.S. troops by exposing military tactics, techniques and procedures, Morrell said.
WikiLeaks previously released a similar batch of field reports from Afghanistan, and Assange said yesterday that WikiLeaks will release further documents on that conflict.