With reports swirling that a third document-dump by the Internet organization WikiLeaks could be imminent - and might reveal confidential comments by foreign leaders about their governments - American diplomats are in damage-control mode.
The Washington Post reported today that the new round of secret U.S. military documents "could reveal that senior government officials in other countries are the sources of embarrassing information about the inner workings of those governments, thus making it more difficult for the State Department to obtain such intelligence in the future."
With Iraq beginning a sensitive and high-stakes month of negotiations over a new government that would run the country for the next four years, U.S. officials here are worried about what secrets the new leaks could reveal. In a briefing with foreign correspondents this morning, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, Jim Jeffrey, called WikiLeaks "an absolutely awful impediment to my business, which is to be able to have discussions in confidence with people."
Responding to a question from a reporter from The New York Times - which WikiLeaks has provided with an advance look at the documents the last two times - Jeffrey said the documents "simply hurt our ability to do our work here."
He didn't elaborate, but anything that embarrasses the two lynchpins of the new Iraqi government - prime minister-designate Nouri al Maliki and secular Shiite leader Iyad Allawi - could damage U.S. efforts to bolster the talks, to say nothing of discussions on the future American military presence in Iraq and other sensitive questions.
Jeffrey said that Iraqi leaders would be angered by WikiLeaks, too. "Anybody who has confidential discussions (that) find their way into print is going to be very, very unhappy," he said.
The documents could be released as early as this weekend.