Supporters of Nouri al-Maliki say Wikileaks documents are fraudulent

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been running a "detention squad" that exists outside the military command structure and may be cracking down on Sunni Muslims who oppose the Shia Muslim leader, according to an analysis of documents in the WikiLeaks release.

Al-Jazeera reports on a military document that shows US forces arrested 17 individuals in October, 2006, who were wearing Iraqi military uniforms and claimed to answer directly to Prime Minister Maliki. Hours later, an Iraqi defense ministry official showed up and asked that the troops be released, as their mission was "directed by PM Maliki," according to the document.

"US troops are clearly worried that al-Maliki is using his political power as a cudgel against his rivals, particularly Sunnis," al-Jazeera reports.

In June 2009, after five high-ranking police officers who were once members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party were arrested, a US intelligence official wrote that the arrests "could demonstrate ... that PM Maliki, who is rumored to be using his power to forcefully advance Shia interests in Iraq, is cracking down on Sunnis who he perceives as a threat. The fact that the PM ordered the arrest makes it that much more suspicious."

The news of a personal military squad carrying out the potentially political goals of the prime minister wasn't news to some members of al-Maliki's opposition.

''For years we have been talking about the armed groups that are working under the name of the ministry of interior and ministry of defense that have direct connections with some leaders in the government,'' said Maysoon al-Damluji, a spokeswoman for the secularist Iraqiya party.

Al-Maliki has been locked in a power struggle with former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi for months, ever since parliamentary elections this spring resulted in a political deadlock. The Washington Post reports:

Maliki and rival Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and former prime minister, are both trying to win the support of a simple majority of lawmakers to form the next government.

Maliki appears closer to that goal, having secured the key backing of the Shiite Sadrist movement. But negotiations among leaders of the two leading blocs and smaller ones since the March 7 vote have failed to break the deadlock.

In the wake of the WikiLeaks release, Maliki and his allies have been among the harshest critics of the leak, going so far as to claim that the documents are fake and part of a smear campaign against the prime minister.

"These are all just fakes from the Internet and Photoshop," said Hassan al-Sneid, a member of al-Maliki's State of Law coalition.

"There are some political interests behind the media campaign who are trying to use the documents against national leaders, especially the prime minister," al-Maliki's office said in a statement, which added that "the timing and style of the documents . . . raise a big question mark."

"The statement failed to address the question of the documents' veracity or detail who was trying to discredit Mr Maliki or how," notes the Australian.

The following video was broadcast on Al-Jazeera English, Oct. 24, 2010.