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Amiriyah shelter bombing

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Title: Amiriyah shelter bombing  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Gulf War, Gulf War air campaign, Al-A'amiriya, GBU-27 Paveway III, Iraq–United States relations
Collection: 1991 in Iraq, Airstrikes, Gulf War, History of Baghdad, Iraq–united States Relations, United States Military Scandals
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Amiriyah shelter bombing

The Amiriyah shelter bombing[N 1] was an aerial 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 laser-guided "smart bombs".[1]

The 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 fitted 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.[2]


  • Background 1
  • Bombing 2
  • Reactions 3
  • Legacy 4
    • Subsequent debate 4.1
    • Legality 4.2
    • In culture 4.3
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


The United States was responsible for the decision to target the Amiriyah shelter. By its own admission, the U.S. Department of Defense "knew the Ameriyya facility had been used as a civil-defense shelter during the Iran–Iraq War."[3] Changes in the protected status of such a facility require warning, and Human Rights Watch notes that, "The United States' failure to give such a warning before proceeding with the disastrous attack on the Ameriyya shelter was a serious violation of the laws of war."[3]

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.[4] However, Human Rights Watch noted in 1991, "It is now well established, through interviews with neighborhood residents, that the Ameriyya structure was plainly marked as a public shelter and was used throughout the air war by large numbers of civilians."[3]

Satellite photos and electronic intercepts indicating this alternative use were regarded as circumstantial and unconvincing to Brigadier General Buster Glosson, who had primary responsibility for targeting. Glosson's comment was that the assessment wasn't "worth a shit." A source in Iraq, who had previously been proven accurate, warned the CIA that Iraqi intelligence had begun operating from the shelter. On 11 February, Shelter Number 25 was added to the U.S. Air Force's attack plan.[4]


At 4:30 a.m. in the morning of 13 February, two F-117 stealth fighter/bombers each dropped a 2,000 pound GBU-27 laser-guided bomb on the shelter. The first cut through ten feet of reinforced concrete before a time-delayed fuse exploded. Minutes later the second bomb followed the path cut by the first bomb.[4] People staying in the upper level were incinerated by heat, while boiling water from the shelter's water tank was responsible for the rest of the fatalities.[5]

At the time of the bombing, hundreds of Iraqi civilians were sheltering in the building. More than 400 people were killed; reports on precise numbers vary and the registration book was incinerated in the blast.[5] The blast sent shrapnel into surrounding buildings, shattering glass windows and splintering their foundations.[2]

The shelter is maintained as a memorial to those who died within it, featuring photos of those killed. Not all who died died immediately; black, incinerated hands of some victims remain fused to the concrete ceiling of the shelter. 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.[6][7]


A number of foreign governments responded to the mass killing at Amiriyah with mourning, outrage, and calls for investigations. Jordan declared three days of mourning.[8] Algerian and Sudanese governing parties condemned a "paroxysm of terror and barbarism" and a "hideous, bloody massacre" respectively.[8] 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.[8]


Subsequent debate

Jeremy Bowen, a BBC correspondent, was one of the first television reporters on the scene. Bowen was given access to the site and found no evidence of military use.[9]

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" in a military facility at Amiriyah.[10]

According to Charles Heyman of Jane's World Armies, the signals intelligence observed at the shelter was from an aerial antenna that was connected to a communications center some 300 yards (270 m) away.[2]


Seven Iraqi families living in Belgium who lost loved ones in the attack launched a lawsuit against 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 are 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.[11]

In culture

A character from the play Nine Parts of Desire, Umm Gheda, is a caretaker of the bombed shelter.[12]

Thom Yorke of Radiohead wrote the song "I Will" about the bombing, which was published on their sixth studio album Hail To The Thief.

A short film by the poet Robert Minhinnick, Black Hands, features his poem of the same name and his own footage of the shelter.

Nasseer Shamma, Iraqi Oud player, has composed a solo Oud piece "Happened at al-Amiriyya" which is a musical description of the event.


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


  1. ^  
  2. ^ a b c Scott Peterson, "'Smarter' bombs still hit civilians, Christian Science Monitor, 22 October 2002.
  3. ^ a b c Human Rights Watch, Needless Deaths In The Gulf War: Civilian Casualties During the Air Campaign and Violations of the Laws of War, 1991.
  4. ^ a b c Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, Rick Atkinson, 1993, p. 284-285
  5. ^ a b Felicity Arbuthnot, The Ameriya Shelter - St. Valentine's Day Massacre, February 13, 2007.
  6. ^ John Dear, S.J., Iraq Journal: Notes from a peace delegation to a ravaged land, Soujourners Magazine, 1999.
  7. ^ Riverbend, Dedicated to the Memory of L.A.S., 15 February 2004.
  8. ^ a b c Hiro, Dilip (2003). Desert Shield to Desert Storm: The Second Gulf War. p. 361.  
  9. ^ Report aired on BBC 1, 14 February 1991
  10. ^ White House, Crafting Tragedy.
  11. ^ "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. 
  12. ^ Hirschhorn, Joel. "Review: ‘Nine Parts of Desire’." Variety. September 15, 2005. Retrieved on April 12, 2014.

Further reading

  • Boustany, Nora (Washington Post Foreign Service). "Bombs Killed Victims as They Slept." Washington Post. Thursday February 14, 1991. p. A01.

External links

  • The Battle for Hearts and Minds, (Washington Post, 1998)
  • Image of the damaged roof and floor.
  • External view of the shelter.
  • Image of Amiriyah Bombing Aftermath.

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