The Middle East reacts to Wikileaks

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The release of 400,000 classified U.S. military Iraq logs by the whistleblower website Wikileaks has been met in the Middle East with anger and hand wringing, but mostly indifference, especially from the Iraqis themselves.

The reaction from the main Iraqi political coalitions has been predictable. Asharq Alawsat reports that “while Al-Iraqiya List (led by Iyad Allawi) believes the publication of these documents has put the State of Law Coalition [SLC] led by outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in an embarrassing position vis-à-vis the other political parties, the SLC stressed that the timing of these documents’ publication was meant to weaken the government and unsettle the situation in the country. On its part, the Kurdish Alliance deemed it unlikely that these documents would have any impact on the ongoing negotiations between the blocs or their outcomes.”

The sentiments expressed by the SLC representatives are also echoed by senior Iranian politicians. Qatar Morning Post reports that according to the secretary-general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, Mohammad-Javad Larijani, recent revelations by Wikileaks are Washington’s ploy to cover up human rights violations by the U.S. “The message of Wikileaks documents is that the Iraqi people have been tortured by Iraq’s security forces, and the only wrongdoing of Americans is that they witnessed the incidents and remained silent. This is while the U.S. had the main role in these incidents and is the defendant.”

But the motive behind and timing of the release is not the most important issue being debated. In an article published on Dar Al Hayat, George Semaan writes that “what is mostly important about these ‘secrets’ is that they are now documented by the hour and the day, feature names, and have revealed through registered facts the history of the known conflict between the Americans, the Iranians, the Syrians and the battling Iraqi forces, which has so far claimed the lives of thousands of innocent civilians.” He then adds, “Now, the obvious question is the following: Should these documents not be transferred to an international court so that this court can conduct its inquiries and investigations and try those involved in what could be described as being ‘war crimes’?”

The answer to that question is clear to at least some observers. Writing in a commentary for the Jordanian newspaper Addustoor, Areeb al Rantawi suggests that “as the crimes committed in Iraq were made public and documented, it is imperative to set up a new special court on the Nuremberg model to confront those responsible for crimes against humanity in Iraq.” Quoted in an Arab News report, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak says that “the Obama administration has both a legal and moral obligation to investigate credible claims of its military’s complicity in torture as per UN human-rights treaties and America’s obligations under international law.”

A similar call was issued earlier this week also by the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates). In a statement published in the Pakistani The International News and widely cited by Gulf media outlets, GCC secretary general Abdulrahman al-Attiyah said that “the US is requested to open a serious and transparent investigation into the information contained in these documents on the commission of crimes against humanity.”

Despite these calls for some degree of accountability, there is an expectation that not much will change with the leaking of the new documents. Linda Heard opines in an Arab News articles that the United States should admit to wrongdoing in Iraq and that, if the Obama team ignores demands for accountability, “it is just as blameworthy for abuses committed in Iraq as Bush and Co.” Yet, she expects that, while “it is clear that the Bush administration has much to answer for, … it’s more than probable that its officials will never be held to account.”

A similar sense of pessimism about the impact the leaks would have on U.S. policy, the security scene in Iraq, and especially Iraqi politics was also shared by numerous Iraqi analysts and pundits. Speaking for many of them, strategist Juma Abdullah Motlak told Aswat al-Iraq news agency that “the security scene in Iraq would not be affected to a great extent by these documents or any other documents. The havoc and shocks Iraq has already been through are far exceeding any media depiction of the importance of these documents.” 

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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