AT 2355D, AN AUS PATROL CAME UNDER SAF.

/___ RETURNED FIRE AND EXTRACTED BACK TO BASE.

IPS TASKED TO INVESTIGATE.

IDENTIFIED PERSON AS VILLAGE NIGHT GUARD WHO WAS ARRESTED.

___ INJ/DAM

DATE: 24 JULY 2006, REGION: MND-SE, ENEMY DETAINED: 1, MGRS:  38RNV25

And there you have it, one of the 400,000 US military records from the ground in Iraq that the US government did not want you to see. The reports, covering a period from 2004 to 2010, were leaked to whistle-blower website WikiLeaks and released over the weekend.

The above report is one of over 60 Crikey has identified as most likely referring to Australian troops.

The records contain gaps (marked by three underscores) where WikiLeaks has redacted names of soldiers, Iraqi civilians and, perhaps controversially, even some countries. Acronyms such as SAF (Small Arms Fire) and IPS (Iraqi Police Force) are common. Each report has a GPS location attached.

The documents referencing Australian troops range from friendly fire incidents where civilians were wounded, to suicide vehicle attacks, to warnings of impending attacks by informants, false checkpoints by armed insurgents, plots to kill ambassadors and even rock throwing incidents by local kids.

Most of the activity involving Australians centres around the south-eastern cities of Samawah and Nasiriyah, a relatively safe part of the country where the troops were deployed after the initial invasion to support the reconstruction effort and to train Iraqi troops, first as the Al Muthanna Task Group and then as the Overwatch Battle Group (West).

Like the Afghan War Diaries released by WikiLeaks in July, the reports are first and second-hand accounts of incidents in the war zone.

Building on their experiences with the Afghan documents, WikiLeaks has done some serious work preparing such a large amount of information for the general public. This has included sifting through the reports, blanking names, liaising with traditional media outlets to summarise the data and, finally, presenting the information in an accessible way via the web.

One visually impressive but undoubtedly sensationalist tool is the ‘every death mapped’ page provided by The Guardian newspaper in the UK. The site overlays each of the deadly incident reports onto Google maps, drowning every town and city in Iraq in a mass of red dots.

One of the more interesting questions for Australians about the Iraqi war logs is why there are so few reports involving our soldiers. While Australian troops peaked at 2,000 during the 2003 invasion, the numbers that remained behind to provide security in the southern region of Iraq were about 500. By contrast, the US had about 120,000 troops in Iraq during this period. That ratio would suggest, all things being equal, 1600 reports instead of the roughly 65 reports provided by WikiLeaks.

There may be several reasons for this discrepancy. At the time of the occupation there was some criticism that the allied countries, tepid on the invasion from the beginning, sat in their bases and favoured checkpoints and reconstructions in safer parts of Iraq to combat operations in the more dangerous areas of Baghdad and the West.

Australians may be referred to in the American reports by different names or WikiLeaks may have redacted references to Australians at the request of the Pentagon. Like the Afghan War Diaries, reports on Australia’s SAS forces are probably not included. Finally, Australian incidents not witnessed by US ground forces were possibly reported via different mechanisms.

This leaves open the potential for an Australian version of the Iraq war logs at a later date.

On an initial survey of the massive amount of data released by WikiLeaks over the weekend, the Australian Defence Forces appear to be operating on a high level of professionalism and, yes, humanitarianism. Regardless of the disdain many Australians hold for those who sent us to war, these documents show that the men and women on the ground did a good job.

Don’t believe me? Thanks to WikiLeaks and someone inside the American military, you can see for yourself.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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