“The documents released by WikiLeaks are U.S. government documents produced by intelligence agencies and others and, as such, should not be accepted as confirming anything other than that the U.S. is producing information about Iran’s perceived role in Iraq,” said Joost Hiltermann, the deputy director of the International Crisis Group’s Middle East Program.

“It won’t take much to convince me, based on research in Iraq, that Iran has been playing a certain role in Iraq involving weapons supplies, armed attacks, war by proxy, and what have you,” Hiltermann continued. “But this is not the same as accepting intelligence documents produced by a party to the conflict between the U.S. and Iran hook, line, and sinker as incontrovertible proof that Iran has been doing x, y, and z.”

University of Minnesota professor William Beeman wrote on his blog that the documents do not constitute proof, but rather only give “verbatim internal reports” instead of broader accusations previously made by senior military officials in Iraq. The older allegations seem to have been based on the reports, but Beeman notes that “the evidence is no more compelling for its repetition.”

And at the Foreign Policy Journal website, Jeremy Hammond, in the course of picking apart the Times piece for inconsistencies, notes that the claim that some revelations were “broadly consistent” with other classified documents and official accounts—all of which would also come through the lens of the U.S. government.

“As for being ‘broadly consistent’ with public accounts by military officials, this is a meaningless statement from which no conclusions about the accuracy of the reports may be drawn,” continues Hammond. “After all, the infamous documents purporting to show that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had sought to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger were ‘broadly consistent’ with public claims about Iraq’s possession and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but they were fabrications nevertheless.”

And therein lies the call for more caution in reading single-source U.S. government (in this case, military/ intelligence) reports—mistakes have been made before, and they left Iraq in a bloody shambles. Skepticism would be especially well-founded for the New York Times piece on Iran’s ties to the Shia insurgency in Iraq. Consider this sampling of Times articles on the subject, along with the bylines:

- “Iran Aiding Shiite Attacks Inside Iraq, General Says,” June 23, 2006, by Michael R. Gordon

- “Iran Ties Role in Iraq Talks to U.S. Exit,” December 10, 2006, by Hassan M. Fattah and Michael R. Gordon

- “U.S. Says Captured Iranians Can Be Linked to Attacks,” December 27, 2006, by Sabrina Tavernise with contributed reporting from Michael R. Gordon

- “Deadliest Bomb in Iraq is Made by Iran, U.S. Says,” Feb. 10, 2007, by Michael R. Gordon

- “U.S. Says Arms Link Iranians to Iraqi Shiites,” Feb. 12, 2007, by James Glanz with contributed reporting from Michael R. Gordon

- “Why Accuse Iran of Meddling Now? U.S. Officials Explain,” Feb. 15, 2007, by Michael R. Gordon

- “U.S. Says Raid in Iraq Supports Claim on Iran,” Feb. 26, 2007, by James Glanz and Richard A. Oppel Jr. with contributed reporting from Michael R. Gordon

- “U.S. Long Worried that Iran Supplied Arms in Iraq,” March 27, 2007, by Michael R. Gordon and Scott Shane

- “U.S. Ties Iran to Deadly Attack,” July 2, 2007, by Michael R. Gordon

- “U.S. Says Iran Helped Iraqis Kill Five G.I.s,” July 3, 2007, by John F. Burns and Michael R. Gordon

- “U.S. Says Iran-Supplied Bomb Kills More Troops,” August 8, 2007, by Michael R. Gordon

- “Hezbollah Trains Iraqis in Iran, Officials Say,” May 5, 2008, by Michael R. Gordon

Now fast forward two years, and we arrive at the article about the WikiLeaks document dump and Iran’s involvement in Iraq:

- “Leaked Report Detail Iran’s Aid for Iraqi Militias,” October 22, 2010, by Michael R. Gordon and Andrew W. Lehren

You might be forgiven for seeing a consistent pattern emerging here. And when you look at the two-year-long string of articles about Iran and Iraq listed above, with all those accounts from often unnamed U.S. officials, and then the WikiLeaks documents that bear out these anonymous accounts with more detailed anonymous accounts, you wonder if Gordon is not defending his own record when he wrote last month that:

During the administration of President George W. Bush, critics charged that the White House had exaggerated Iran’s role to deflect criticism of its handling of the war and build support for a tough policy toward Iran, including the possibility of military action.

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist who blogs about U.S.-Iran relations at www.LobeLog.com.