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Amiriyah shelter bombing

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Amiriyah shelter bombing
Part of the Gulf War
Interior of the shelter, currently maintained as a memorial to the bombing
33°17′50″N 44°16′50″E / 33.29722°N 44.28056°E / 33.29722; 44.28056
DateFebruary 13, 1991 (1991-02-13)
Executed byUnited States Air Force United States Air Force
Casualties408+ killed
Unknown injured
Al-A'amiriya is located in Iraq
Location of Al-A'amiriya within Iraq

The Amiriyah shelter bombing[N 1] was an aerial bombing attack that killed at least 408 civilians on 13 February 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, when an air-raid shelter ("Public Shelter No. 25") in the Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, was destroyed by the U.S. Air Force with two GBU-27 Paveway III laser-guided "smart bombs".[1][2] The U.S. Department of Defense stated that they "knew the [Amiriyah] facility had been used as a civil-defense shelter during the Iran–Iraq War",[3] while the U.S. military stated they believed the shelter was no longer a civil defense shelter and that they thought it had been converted to a command center or a military personnel bunker.


The Amiriyah shelter was used in the Iran–Iraq War and the Persian Gulf War by hundreds of civilians. According to the U.S. military, the shelter at Amiriyah had been targeted because it fit the profile of a military command center; electronic signals from the locality had been reported as coming from the site, and spy satellites had observed people and vehicles moving in, and out of the shelter.[4]

Charles E. Allen, the CIA's National Intelligence Officer for Warning, supported the selection of bomb targets during the Persian Gulf War. He coordinated intelligence with Colonel John Warden, who headed the U.S. Air Force's planning cell known as "Checkmate". On 10 February 1991, Allen presented his estimate to Colonel Warden that Public Shelter Number 25 in the southwestern Baghdad suburb of Amiriyah had become an alternative command post and showed no sign of being used as a civilian bomb shelter.[5] However, Human Rights Watch noted in 1991, "It is now well established, through interviews with neighborhood residents, that the [Amiriyah] structure was plainly marked as a public shelter and was used throughout the air war by large numbers of civilians".[3]

A former United States Air Force general who worked as "the senior targeting officer for the Royal Saudi Air Force", an "impeccable source" according to Robert Fisk, asserted in the aftermath of the bombing that "[Richard I.] Neal talked about camouflage on the roof of the bunker. But I am not of the belief that any of the bunkers around Baghdad have camouflage on them. There is said to have been barbed wire there but that's normal in Baghdad... There's not a single soul in the American military who believes that this was a command-and-control bunker... We thought it was a military personnel bunker. Any military bunker is assumed to have some civilians in it. We have attacked bunkers where we assume there are women and children who are members of the families of military personnel who are allowed in the military bunkers".[6]

Satellite photos and electronic intercepts indicating this alternative use as a command and control center were regarded as circumstantial and unconvincing to Brigadier General Buster Glosson, who had primary responsibility for targeting. Glosson commented that the assessment wasn't "worth a shit". However, the unnamed human source in Iraq which had previously proven accurate warned the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that the Iraqi Intelligence Service had begun operating in the shelter. In addition, military vehicles were seen parked near the shelter, and unknown to the Coalition, many Iraqi officers brought their families to the building each night where Coalition reconnaissance aircraft were unable to detect.[7] On 11 February, Shelter Number 25 was added to the USAF's attack plan.[5]


Hand prints of victims inside the shelter
Photographs of young victims of the bombing

At 04:30 on the morning of 13 February, two F-117 stealth bombers each dropped a 910 kilograms (2,000 lb) GBU-27 laser-guided bomb on the shelter. The first bomb cut through 3 metres (10 ft) of reinforced concrete before a time-delayed fuse exploded. Minutes later, the second bomb followed the path cut by the first bomb. Neighborhood residents heard screams as people tried to get out of the shelter. They screamed for four minutes. After the second bomb hit, the screaming ceased.[8]

At the time of the bombing, hundreds of Iraqi civilians, mostly women and children, were sheltering in the building; many were sleeping. More than 408 people were killed; reports on precise numbers vary, and the registration book was incinerated in the blast.[9] People staying on the upper level were incinerated by heat while boiling water from the shelter's water tank was responsible for the rest of the fatalities.[9] Not all killed died immediately; black, incinerated handprints of some victims remained fused to the concrete ceiling of the shelter. Journalist John Simpson reported on the horrific sight of "bodies fused together so that they formed entire blocks of flesh" along with "a layer of melted human fat an inch deep lying on the surface of the water pumped in by the firemen".[10][11] The blast sent shrapnel into surrounding buildings, shattering glass windows and splintering their foundations.[12]


Many foreign governments responded to the bombing at Amiriyah with mourning, outrage, and calls for investigations. Jordan declared three days of mourning.[13] Algerian and Sudanese governing parties condemned the bombing as a "paroxysm of terror and barbarism" and a "hideous, bloody massacre" respectively.[13] Jordan and Spain called for an international inquiry into the bombing, and Spain urged the U.S. to move its attacks away from Iraq itself and concentrate instead on occupied Kuwait.[13]


Candles lit near the bomb's entry hole in February 2021, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the bombing


Photograph of Sally Ahmad Salman, a young girl who died in the shelter during the bombing

The shelter is currently maintained as it was after the blast, as a memorial to those who died within it, featuring photos of those killed. According to visitors' reports, Umm Greyda, a woman who lost eight children in the bombing, moved into the shelter to help create the memorial and serves as its primary guide.[14][15]

Subsequent debate[edit]

Jeremy Bowen, a BBC correspondent, was one of the first reporters on the scene. Bowen was given access to the site and found no evidence of military use.[16]

The White House, in a report titled Apparatus of Lies: Crafting Tragedy, states that U.S. intelligence sources reported the shelter was being used for military command purposes. The report goes on to accuse the Iraqi government of deliberately keeping "select civilians" as human shields in a military facility at Amiriyah.[17]

According to Jane's Information Group, the signals intelligence observed at the shelter was from an aerial antenna that was connected to a communications center some 270 metres (300 yd) away.[4]


Under the 1977 Additional Protocol I (AP1) to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, Article 57 requires the attacking force to comply with the principle of distinction, that is, to do everything feasible to ensure the objective is a legitimate military target. However, the U.S. is not a party to API and several basic provisions contained within the protocol had not crystallized into customary international humanitarian law at the time of the Gulf War due to many other potential state parties objecting to it out of legal and military complications. The 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention was inapplicable to this situation due to its primary importance on humane treatment of protected civilians at the hands of enemy forces in an interstate conflict, not during actual hostilities.[18]

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) ruled in its 2000 case The Prosecutor v. Blaskic that to constitute a violation of distinction, the act must be committed "intentionally in the knowledge ... that civilians or civilian property were being targeted." Based on the evidence involved, the 1991 Amiriyah shelter bombing did not violate the principle of distinction because the U.S. commanders took necessary steps to ensure the target was not civilian.[7][19] The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)'s Commentary of 1987 on Article 57 of API stated: "Admittedly, those who plan or decide upon such an attack will base their decision on information given [to] them, and they cannot be expected to have personal knowledge of the objective to be attacked and of its exact nature."[20]


Seven Iraqi families living in Belgium who lost relatives in the bombing launched a lawsuit against former President George H. W. Bush, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, and General Norman Schwarzkopf for committing what they claim were war crimes in the 1991 bombing. The suit was brought under Belgium's universal jurisdiction guarantees in March 2003 but was dismissed in September following their restriction to Belgian nationals and residents in August 2003.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The name "Amiriyah" can also be spelled "Amiriya", "Al'amrih", "Amariya", and "Amariyah". There is no agreed spelling for the name in English. For example, The BBC uses all four spellings on its website. CNN uses Amariya, Amariyah and Amiriya, while the Washington Post uses Amiriyah, Amiriya and Amariyah (once).


  1. ^ Jeenah, Na'eem (July 2001). "Al-Amariyah - A Graveyard of unwilling martyrs". Archived from the original on 28 January 2008. Retrieved 6 May 2009.
  2. ^ https://archive.org/details/firethistimeuswa00clar U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, The Fire This Time, U.S. War Crimes in the Gulf, 1992
  3. ^ a b "Needless Deaths In The Gulf War: Civilian Casualties During the Air Campaign and Violations of the Laws of War". Human Rights Watch. 1991.
  4. ^ a b Scott Peterson, "'Smarter' bombs still hit civilians, Christian Science Monitor, 22 October 2002.
  5. ^ a b Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, Rick Atkinson, 1993, pp. 284–285.
  6. ^ Fisk, Robert (2007). The great war for civilisation : the conquest of the Middle East (1. Vintage Books ed.). New York: Vintage Books. pp. 626–627. ISBN 978-1-4000-7517-1.
  7. ^ a b Gary D. Solis (October 21, 2021). The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law in War. Cambridge University Press. p. 216. ISBN 9-7811-0883-1635.
  8. ^ Ramsey Clark, The Fire this Time, p. 70
  9. ^ a b Felicity Arbuthnot, "The Ameriya Shelter - St. Valentine's Day Massacre". Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-19., 13 February 2007.
  10. ^ Iddon, Paul (2020-03-13). "Baghdad's four decades of conflict and strife". www.newarab.com/. Retrieved 2023-12-14.
  11. ^ Simpson, John (2003). The Wars Against Saddam: Taking the Hard Road to Baghdad. Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4050-3265-0.
  12. ^ Ramsey Clark, The Fire This Time, pp. 70-72.
  13. ^ a b c Hiro, Dilip (2003). Desert Shield to Desert Storm: The Second Gulf War. p. 361. ISBN 0-595-26904-4.
  14. ^ John Dear, S. J., Iraq Journal: Notes from a peace delegation to a ravaged land, Sojourners Magazine, 1999.
  15. ^ Riverbend, Dedicated to the Memory of L.A.S., 15 February 2004.
  16. ^ Report aired on BBC 1, 14 February 1991
  17. ^ White House, Crafting Tragedy.
  18. ^ The Air Force Review, 1994, volume 37, pages 48-50
  19. ^ Matt Killingsworth; Tim McCormack, eds. (2023). Civility, Barbarism and the Evolution of International Humanitarian Law. Cambridge University Press. p. 118. ISBN 9-7811-0876-4049.
  20. ^ "Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977.: Commentary of 1987 Article 57 - Precautions in attack". International Committee of the Red Cross.
  21. ^ "Belgium Nixes War-Crimes Charges Against Bush, Powell, Cheney, Sharon". Fox News. 25 September 2003. Archived from the original on 8 February 2011. Retrieved 8 March 2011.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]