BAGHDAD – Reports of brutality and torture of fellow Iraqis at the hands of government forces threw the country’s political scene into turmoil Saturday, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki attacking the leak as an attempt to malign him, and his rivals citing the documents as proof he is unfit to lead.
The trove of nearly 400,000 WikiLeaks papers includes U.S. military reports of alleged abuse by Iraqi security forces – some of which happened after al-Maliki became prime minister in May 2006. They were released as al-Maliki scrambles to keep his job, nearly seven months after national elections failed to produce a clear winner.
The accusations of abuse of what were likely mostly Sunni detainees at the hands of the mostly Shiite Iraqi security forces has reignited Sunni fears of another four years under al-Maliki, who was known as a Shiite hard-liner before he became prime minister. Al-Maliki has more recently tried to portray himself as a national leader above sectarian divisions, but the WikiLeaks reports threaten to once again rip open the country’s Sunni-Shiite divide.
In a statement, the prime minister’s office accused WikiLeaks of creating a national uproar by releasing documents that it said were being used “against national parties and leaders, especially against the prime minister.”
The statement from al-Maliki’s office said the documents did not present any proof of detainees being improperly treated while al-Maliki has headed Iraq’s Shiite-led government.
But the role of Iraqi security forces in repeated abuses was quickly seized upon by al-Maliki’s political opponents as proof that the prime minister should go.
A spokeswoman for the Sunni-backed Iraqiya political alliance that won the most seats in the March national election said the WikiLeaks documents show why it’s important to have a power-sharing system of government in Iraq.
“Putting all the security powers in the hands of one person who is the general commander of the armed forces have led to these abuses and torture practices in Iraqi prisons,” Iraqiya spokeswoman Maysoun al-Damlouji said in an interview Saturday. “Al-Maliki wants to have all powers in his hands.”
Iraqi political blocs were to meet next week to discuss the formation of a new government, said Iraqiya lawmaker Nahida al-Dayni. But she warned that the documents would have a negative effect on putting a government together.
Until the WikiLeaks papers surfaced Friday, al-Maliki appeared closest to garnering the 163 seats needed for a majority, with the backing of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who lives in self-imposed exile in Iran.