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What happened ten years ago? - Excerpts from 1991 news reports

Dear friends,

As we commemorate the bombing of Iraq ten years ago, we need to recall what actually happened ten years ago.

What follows are excerpts from news clippings taken at the time, mainly from the Independent and the Guardian.

This selection of quotes covers two issues: the bombing of el-Ameriyyah air-raid shelter on February 13, 1991; and ‘Securing the peace: the US and the uprisings’.

But first, can anyone answer a question ..... does anyone know who - which countries and companies - supplied Saddam with his helicopter gunships? If they did come from America, it would make George Bush senior's imitation of Pontius Pilate (saying "it is not for the US to interfere in Iraq's internal affairs") while the US Air Force circled above Saddam's helicopters, taking snuff videos of  the bloody repression of the uprisings, all the more arresting.


John S

… as it was reported ten years ago

(lead article, the Guardian, 15-2-91)
“… charred bodies continued to be pulled from the Baghdad bunker hit on Wednesday. Spain called for an international enquiry into the attack and an end to the blanket bombing of Iraq… The Bush administration fell into unusual disarray… up to a hundred “dual-use” civilian and military bunkers might be taken off the target list, Pentagon sources suggested… among the options being considered was a warning to Iraq that a potentially civilian target was to be hit.  …President Bush was making none of his customary blizzard of phone calls to foreign leaders. He announced that he would leave early for a holiday weekend. The US insisted that the Stealth bomber attack was on “a legitimate military target, a command and control centre”.

Robert Fisk, in the Independent, 15-2-91
“The United States Air Force killed scores of civilians in a Baghdad bunker on Wednesday because it believed key Iraqi military personnel were sheltering inside, not because it thought the building was a command and control centre, according to a senior US military source…. The allies are now launching between 150 and 200 sorties a day against Baghdad, the source said, but pilots were reporting that they found themselves bombing the same target five or six times, even after the structure had been destroyed”

(Independent, 15-2-91)
“Funerals of the first victims of the bombed bunker were held amid scenes of high emotion in the Iraqi capital as a wave of anti-American sentiment swept the Arab world” 

(Independent, 14-2-91)
“The death of at least 400 civilians in a Baghdad air-raid shelter did not seem to have ruptured the political consensus on the war in either London or Washington… the consensus between the Labour front bench and the Government held firm… There were angry Tory protests when George Galloway… told the Foreign Secretary [Douglas Hurd]: ‘As you watched the television screen at lunchtime and saw the ribbons of women and children swept out of the air-raid shelter in Baghdad, some of the blood of these innocent civilians was on your hands. Will you stop bombing cities now?’

(Guardian, 15-2-91)
“Clare Short quit the opposition front bench… [saying] “she could not stick with it… it’s the nature of the bombing that I’m worried about. People not having water and food; it’s got nothing to do with the liberation of Kuwait.” A second front-bencher, Joan Ruddock [former leader of CND] decided to stay after pledging that she would not speak out on the Gulf war again.” … The Prime Minister, John Major, expressed regret yesterday over the civilian deaths in Baghdad but … backed the US assessment that there had been reason to believe the shelter was a legitimate military target.”

(Independent, 14-2-91)
“As night fell… smoke still rose from the rubble, and about 5000 people… crowded the scene, looking for relatives and friends, as men beat on their chests… [and] women cried hysterically. Foreign journalists were allowed to inspect the site… No evidence of any military presence could be seen inside the wreckage…. Witnesses said the entrance to the shelter took direct hits from at least two missiles fired by allied warplanes at 4am [local time]. They said the first missile or bomb jammed the only escape route. The second strike, moments later, penetrated the 9ft-thick concrete roof and exploded inside the windowless shelter… Odnar Adnan, 17, said he was the only one in his family to escape alive; his three younger sisters, mother and father all died. He said “I was sleeping and suddenly I felt heat and\the blanket was burning. Moments later, I felt I was suffocating. I turned to try and touch my mother who was next to me but grabbed nothing but a piece of flesh”. 

(Independent, 14-2-91)
“The White House spokesman, Marlin Fitzwalter, said, “Saddam does not share our value in the value of human life” He had “time and again… shown a willingness to sacrifice civilian lives and property to further his war aims.”

“Securing the peace” - the US and the uprisings

Sara Helm, Independent 28-1-91
”The prospect of a dangerous power vacuum in a post-war Iraq…[&] the need to achieve the most stable possible post-war Iraq, and one most favourable to US interests, is … influencing discussion of how the war should be fought and what its aims should be. How… can the US strike a balance between annihilating President Saddam and his power base without annihilating any pillars of stability Iraq may have, perhaps among more moderate military leaders?…
Under the …preferred scenario, Iraq would be routed and President Saddam killed, but a semblance of political order would remain, probably under a more moderate military regime. But if the US is to have any hope of achieving this… it must carefully judge the extent to which it destroys the country…”

“Allies in search of total victory move to derail peace bandwagon”
Colin Hughes, Colin Brown, Sarah Helm
February 27, 1991  [ – the eve of the “end” of the “war”]
Despite the collapse of the Iraqi army, and the offer from President Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait, the United States showed no willingness yesterday to contemplate or discuss arrangements for a possible peace. It is clear that the American and British governments believe the Iraqi president can only meet the coalition’s demands by capitulating far more thoroughly. … Pressure was building up in the United Nations and among some coalition partners for attention to be paid to the peace process. But in Washington… US diplomats were determined to prevent the peace bandwagon from starting to roll.
… President Bush will at some point have to hand the reins back to the Security Council. After all, the war has been prosecuted as a UN war – the use of force authorised by the Security Council: the peace, too, should logically be a UN peace, drawn up by the Security Council. That, however, would require Washington to relinquish control. …  [continuation of the war] is justified … under a short line in UN resolution 678, which calls for the future peace and security of the region to be secured. …
[B]y appearing to ride roughshod over the UN role, the US could be doing; long-term damage to the authority of the Security Council. Already there is whispering among non-Aligned members – that the UN is being made to appear irrelevant.

Basra in revolt to overthrow Saddam
Victor Mallet, Financial Times, March 4
IRAQIS in the southern city of Basra have revolted against President Saddam Hussein and are calling for an Islamic government headed by Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim, the opposition Shiite leader exiled in Tehran. Refugees walking on the road between Basra and Kuwait City yesterday described widespread anti-Saddam demonstrations in southern Iraq by civilians and soldiers. … Mr Subhi Nasser … said Iraqis stormed the al-Haritha jail in Basra on Saturday, freeing hundreds of prisoners and killing the military officer who ran the prison.  … “Yesterday morning there was a severe revolution against Saddam Hussein in Basra,” he said. “They opened the Jail and released all the prisoners. We walked from there.  All the people are demonstrating against Saddam Hussein and insulting him and shooting in the air. There were tanks but they went past and the soldiers in them were pleased.”
Mr Nasser and two other refugees interviewed elsewhere said the people were calling on Mr Bakr al-Hakim, who heads the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution, to return from his exile in Iran to be the new president. …
An Iraqi man called lbrahim, entering Kuwait to search for his brother who was in Iraq’s defeated army, said revolutionaries had seized weapons from Iraqi police stations in spite of occasional resistance from the police.  Mr Maher Hakawali, a Jordanian photographer … said he had seen many people killed as civilians fought soldiers on the streets.  … “I came in from Baghdad by truck and I saw many women ululating meaning they were happy. I asked the driver and he told me maybe it was just because the war is finished. So I asked others and they told us that Saddam Hussein has escaped to Algeria.  They are happy and want Mohammed Bakr.”

Guardian, 27 March 1991
“Iraqi helicopters free to hit rebels”
The Bush administration resisted growing pressure yesterday to stop Iraqi helicopter gunships attacking Kurdish and Shi’ite rebels… White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the use of combat helicopters was “not covered by the terms of the ceasefire” though it did violate an “oral agreement” between the two sides. Helicopters would only be shot down if the represented a threat to allied forces, he stated…. President Bush has shown deep ambivalence towards the Kurds and Shi’ites arrayed against President Saddam. “We believe Iraq is a single country, that it is good for the stability of the region that it maintain its territorial integrity. We do not intend to involve ourselves in the internal power struggles of the country,” Mr Fitzwater said yesterday….
“This slaughter is proceeding under the eyes of half a million American troops… any policy premised on Saddam Hussein’s suppression of the rebels implicates the US passively in Saddam’s massacres,” argued Laurie Mylroie of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in the Wall Street Journal. It is clear that the US is betting on dissident elements within the ruling Ba’ath party, which would hold Iraq together.

Independent 2 April 1991
Raymond Whittaker
Victory in the Gulf war provoked a revolt against President Saddam, as Washington hoped, but not of the kind it expected. Instead of a quick and clean military coup, the presence of coalition forces encouraged a popular insurrection among the Shias in the south, in turn emboldening the Kurds to rise up against Baghdad in the north…. Washington… ordered its commanders to do nothing. Disowning any responsibility for the start of the uprising, it now insists that Iraq’s territorial integrity be preserved, even if that means keeping Saddam Hussein in power.… If anything, the tilt is against the rebels… [cites story of US soldiers being ordered to disarm rebels passing through their lines - JS].

Guardian 4 April 1991
Front-page headline: “Turks shut frontier to refugees”
Sub-heading: “Bush stands firm against US military intervention”
Turkey yesterday closed its borders against a huge influx of Kurdish refugees, as up to a quarter of a million people shivered on the mountains of northern Iraq…. As world-wide concern grew over the fate of Iraq’s Kurds, President Bush broke his silence at the end of a four-day holiday in Florida. “I feel frustration and a sense of grief at the innocents who are being killed…”
the Independent added: “…there was little sense of urgency. President Bush professed ignorance about whether the use of helicopters against the rebels was a breach of the ceasefire.”

Guardian (Martin Walker, Sarah Tisdall) 4 March 1991
”…even the welcome departure of Saddam Hussein would leave a political and balance-of-power vacuum in Iraq. The US did not go to war to render Iran the dominant regional power, but an unstable and enfeebled Iraq would create precisely such an outcome. There is a glum realisation in Washington that the future government of Iraq may yet have to be another form of military dictatorship. The prospect for a thriving democracy in a country as wrecked as Iraq would be gloomy.”

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