The release of thousands of classified Iraq war records quickly became part of Iraq's fraught political terrain on Saturday, with Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki denouncing the leak as a move to derail his bid for a second term.
Mr. Maliki, who has been mired in a stalemate with his political rivals since parliamentary elections last March, defended his administration against allegations it had permitted the abuse of prisoners and other misuses of power. In a statement, he dismissed the records as a politically timed smear and a series of “media games and bubbles.”
“The Iraqi people know who their leaders are,” he said.
His opponents called the records an indictment of his administration, and some compared the accounts of whippings and beatings of prisoners by Iraqi guards, often under the gaze of Americans, to the tactics of the former President, Saddam Hussein.
Much of the attention focused on a report from October 2006, shortly after Mr. Maliki took office, that describes the arrest of 17 men wearing Iraqi Army uniforms in Baghdad's Mansour neighbourhood on suspicion of committing robberies. According to the report published by WikiLeaks, the men said they were Iraqi Special Forces “working for the Prime Minister's office”.
Mr. Maliki's political opponents said the report supported their claims that the Prime Minister had used state forces for nefarious ends.
“For years we have been talking about the armed groups that are working under the name of the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence that have direct connections with some leaders in the government,” said Maysoon al-Damluji, a spokeswoman for Iraqiya, the secular political bloc that finished first in Iraq's March 7 elections, slightly ahead of Mr. Maliki's State of Law bloc.
She also said that the reports of abuses of Iraqi prisoners by Iraqi soldiers and police officers were a powerful indictment of Mr. Maliki's government.
“I do not think that Maliki has any chance for the Prime Minister's position, now he only has Iran and the Sadrists,” she said, referring to the party of the anti-American Shia cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who endorsed Mr. Maliki's list of candidates this month, giving him an edge.
The reports threatened to further divide Iraq along sectarian lines. For many Sunnis, they confirmed longstanding allegations of abuse at the hands of Mr. Maliki's Shia-led government.
“We have said, and say again, that Maliki should sentenced to justice and be held accountable for what he has done to the Iraqi people,” said Waleed Aboud al-Mohamadi, a member of Parliament from Anbar Province.
Mr. Maliki and his partisans rejected the allegations, insisting that they had followed the law and denying any abuse of prisoners. They also tried to discredit the leaked documents.
“These are all just fakes from the Internet and Photoshop,” said Hassan al-Sneid, a leader of Maliki's governing State of Law coalition. — New York Times News Service