Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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March 24, 2003

Propaganda Trap Possibly Set for the Allies in Iraqi War

By Mark Kagan, GIS. It is believed probable that the Iraqi Administration has, in recent months, attempted to set up a “sting” operation under which Coalition forces could be induced to attack civilian bomb shelters in Iraq, in the belief that they were legitimate military targets. This would result in a major propaganda coup for Iraq against the Coalition. It was believed, based on some indicators, that the Iraqi military had deliberately, in recent months, put military communications facilities in civilian shelters so that transmissions would be detected by US surveillance and the sites noted as military facilities.

The Times newspaper, in London, reported on December 16, 2002, that Iraq was preparing to renovate bomb shelters around Baghdad as the likelihood of war rose. The Times noted that “most residents will be reluctant to use them, however, after the incineration of more than 400 Iraqis in the al-‘Amariyah shelter during the Gulf War”. Indeed, most residents of Baghdad should also be very reluctant to use any shelters during the current war for fear that President Saddam Hussein would use them as bait for a propaganda coup against the US-led war.

The Times was referring to the night of February 13, 1991, when the shelter was struck by two US smart bombs which, unfortunately for the civilians who had taken refuge there, worked exactly as designed. According to the Iraqi Government, 407 people, including 52 children and 262 women, were killed by the explosive fireball in the confined space.

US military commanders said that the attack on the shelter had been based on what turned out to be outdated intelligence that had identified it as a military communications center, and denied knowing that there were civilians in the shelter. The commanders and the US Government called it a mistake and apologized.

But the Iraqi Government, which after the war turned the shelter into a shrine commemorating US “war crimes” against Iraq, denounced it as a deliberate attack against civilians. The Iraqi Government called it “the most horrifying US crime ever committed against the people of Iraq” and the “USA’s most savage crime in the 20th Century” and “a blatant breach of human norms and traditions”. The admission by the Coalition that the bombing was a mistake, said Iraq, was “merely desperate attempts to cover up the violent crime” because “professional killers are always killers no matter when and where”.

A survey of websites and publications that range from anti-war to anti-US to pro-Iraqi (not necessarily the same) make it clear that many people around the world have accepted at face value the Iraqi accusations that the US military deliberately targeted a civilian bomb shelter in the Gulf War. It is notable that while official Iraqi sources, which are not known for their veracity, have maintained the figure of 407 deaths in the bombing, many of these other websites and publications claim much higher figures, ranging between 1,000 and 4,000 civilians killed.

And it is for this reason that Iraqis should hesitate before entering any shelter during this war. With the example of the al-‘Amariyah shelter in mind, it is entirely likely that in the past several months, one or more shelters in Baghdad could have been used by the Iraqi military as communications centers so that US signals intelligence would pinpoint their location(s). With the start of the war, the shelter(s) would be sanitized and Iraqi civilians would be told that they could use them as bomb shelters. If the civilians proved reluctant to enter the shelter, they could be forced inside.

Thus, they would complete the trap that President Hussein may hope to spring on US military planners sending out coordinates for bombing targets. Although he may not survive the war, the audience President Hussein is playing to, which believes that anything the US does is wrong and that the US is behind an anti-Arab and anti-Muslim conspiracy, will believe that the US knowingly targeted a civilian bomb shelter and deliberately killed hundreds of civilians, again.