They provide no earthshaking revelations, but offer insights from people fighting the war

A huge trove of secret field reports from the battlegrounds of Iraq sheds new light on the war, including such fraught subjects as civilian deaths, detainee abuse and the involvement of Iran.

The secret archive is the second cache obtained by the independent organisation WikiLeaks and made available to several news organisations. Like the first release, reports covering six years of the Afghan war, the Iraq documents provide no earthshaking revelations, but they offer insight, texture and context from the people actually fighting the war.

An analysis of the 391,832 documents illuminates important aspects of this war:

The deaths of Iraqi civilians at the hands mainly of other Iraqis but also of the U.S. military appear to be greater than the numbers made public by the U.S. during the Bush administration.

While the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by Americans, particularly at the Abu Ghraib prison, shocked the world, the documents paint an even more lurid picture of abuse by America's Iraqi allies, a brutality from which the Americans at times averted their eyes.

Iran's military, more than has been generally understood, intervened aggressively in support of Shia combatants, offering weapons, training and sanctuary and, in a few instances, directly engaging U.S. troops.

The war in Iraq spawned a reliance on private contractors on a scale not well recognised at the time and unknown in U.S. wars. The documents describe an outsourcing of combat and other duties once performed by soldiers that grew and spread to Afghanistan to the point that there are more contractors there than soldiers.

The Iraqi documents were made available to The New York Times, the British newspaper The Guardian, the French newspaper Le Monde and the German magazine Der Spiegel on the condition that they be embargoed until now. WikiLeaks has never stated where it obtained the information, although a U.S. Army intelligence analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, has been accused of being a source.

As it did with the Afghan war logs, The Times has redacted or withheld any documents that would put lives in danger or jeopardise military operations. Names of Iraqi informants have not been disclosed. WikiLeaks said it had also employed editors to scrub the material for posting on its website.

U.S. pressure

WikiLeaks is under heavy pressure from the U.S. and other countries but is also fraying internally, in part because of a decision to post Afghan documents without removing the names of informants, putting their lives in danger.

Geoff Morrell, Defense Department press secretary, condemned both WikiLeaks and the release of the Iraq documents. “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,” he said.

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