30 years after Amiriyah shelter bombing in Gulf War: Lessons from tragedy

There was no justice for the victims, a fact that still scars Iraqis decades later.

30th anniversary commemoration of Al-Amariyah shelter bombing, Baghdad, Iraq, February 13, 2021 (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/FAISAL1904)
30th anniversary commemoration of Al-Amariyah shelter bombing, Baghdad, Iraq, February 13, 2021
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/FAISAL1904)
It has been 30 years since the bombing of Baghdad’s public bomb shelter number 25, the Al-Amiriyah shelter, during the Gulf War. Some 408 people were killed. The shelter was used by civilians during the Gulf War and it was struck by the US Air Force using a bomb. The US later said this was a mistake but that it had fit the profile of a military target and been added to a target list under the name “Al Firdos C3.”
There was no justice for the victims, a fact that still scars Iraqis decades later. It illustrates the general impunity countries have enjoyed when bombing Iraq, whether fighting the Saddam Hussein regime, or fighting ISIS or others. 
Charred and mutilated remains were found in the shelter after the bombing. Locals said up to 2,000 could cram into shelter. Most of those in the shelter during the bombing were women and children. The report at the time said men wept as they sought to find their loved ones. “The women of the neighborhood had been wiped out,” the report at the time on BBC said. Reporters said they saw no evidence of a military installation. 
The bombing of the shelter was carried out by US F-117 stealth bombers using massive 910-kg. GBU-27 laser-guided bombs. The target was thought to be an “L target” for “leadership” and linked to Iraq’s command and control. It was attacked late in the air campaign against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, on February 13. Iraq was accused of “exploiting” the tragedy, although one wonders how the US or Western governments would have reacted had someone “mistakenly” killed 400 Americans in an airstrike. 
According to the laws of armed conflict, and for a bombing to violate those laws, it would have had to be done willfully, purposely attacking civilians. What is known about the Al-Amiriyah shelter was that it was built by Finnish contractors in the 1980s and that it was thought to be camouflaged, and that a spy had said it was used by military brass and that signals intelligence detected military radio traffic in it. It was thus added to a list of US-led coalition targets. According to a report, more than 3,000 surveillance missions were flown over Iraq and the civilians who nightly crowded the shelter were not detected. 
That 400 people could be killed in a “precision” airstrike aimed at a military target, which was actually full of civilians, illustrates more than just a tragedy of the “fog” of war. Around 105 people were killed in another US-led coalition airstrike in Mosul in 2017 in the Al-Jadida neighborhood. It happened in mid-March. I went to the site in late March and saw the massive crater and remains of the area, totally destroyed by another precision strike. According to reports, the strike on the site had “triggered explosives” placed in the area by ISIS. ISIS snipers had used the building. In this case, a 227-kg. GBU-38 bomb was used.
The massacre of people at Amiriya is largely forgotten by the world. It is not forgotten in Iraq, but it comes as the country still has to deal with continued killing. Not only ISIS terrorists are threatening Iraq, but a new Turkish invasion may threaten Yazidis who just got done burying more than 100 victims of ISIS genocide in Kocho. In addition, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has said that groups terrorizing Basra and targeting protesters and journalists have been detained. 
The massacre at the civilian shelter was not the beginning of decades of suffering in Iraq. The country had suffered before as Saddam’s regime gassed Kurdish civilians and massacred Shi’ites. The country has seen 40 years of war. Someone born in 1980, when Iraq had a developed healthcare system and fancy universities, just prior to the war with Iran, is now more than 40 years old. Their whole life has been war and terror and more war. It does not look like Iraq will stop being preyed upon. Iran trafficks weapons through Iraq to Syria. Turkey bombs northern Iraq. Shi’ite death squads and paramilitaries crush the rights of protesters. Gangs like Asaib Ahl al-Haq are on official paramilitary payroll. Yazidis, forced to flee by ISIS genocide in 2014, cannot return home. Christian towns like Qaraqosh lie in a partial state of ruin. Militias run checkpoints over half the country. And ISIS continues to threaten. 
One thing that has changed since 1991 is the level of precision that now exists with bombing. No longer are such huge bombs usually used in civilian areas. These days, many airstrikes can be carried out by drones or warplanes using smaller munitions that are more accurate and rely on better intelligence. These may include "loitering munitions," a kind of drone that is also a warhead. The lessons of 1991 have not all been learned, but sophisticated militaries have gotten better at avoiding mass civilian casualties.