PART II:THE AIR WAR AGAINST IRAQ
When the air war began, some 425,000 U.S. military personnel in the Gulf were joined by 265,000 troops from 27 other countries to enforce Iraq's compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions.1 Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the Security Council adopted eleven resolutions to force Iraqi compliance with Security Council Resolution 660, which condemned the invasion and demanded that Iraq immediately and unconditionally withdraw all its military forces from Kuwait to the positions these forces occupied on August 1, 1990.2 Resolution 678, adopted by the Security Council on November 29, 1990, sanctioned the use of force against Iraq. It authorized member states cooperating with the Government of Kuwait "to use all necessary means to uphold and implement the Security Council Resolution 660 and all subsequent relevant Resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area" unless Iraqi withdrew from Kuwait and fully implemented all relevant Security Council resolutions on or before January 15, 1991.3
The Department of Defense reported that ultimately the forces participating in Operation Desert Storm totalled over 800,000 military personnel from 36 countries.4 The following ten countries participated in the air campaign: U.S., Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.
Due to myriad political, military and cultural considerations among countries participating in the Coalition, separate parallel lines of command/authority were established. In general, the Islamic forces were organized into a Joint Forces/Theater of Operations command structure under Saudi Lieutenant General Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz. The Command-in-Chief, Central Command (CINCENT) commanded US and non-Islamic members of the Coalition. However, no single overall commander was designated.9
According to the Pentagon, the plan for Operation Desert Storm "envisioned opening the war with a focused, intense air campaign" involving "attacks into Iraq's heartland and against Iraqi forces in the field."10 The air campaign's goals were as follows:
The air campaign was developed to attack critical Iraqi centers of gravity -- the heart of what allowed Iraq to maintain its occupation of Kuwait. The strategy was designed to paralyze the Iraqi leadership's ability to command and control the operations of its forces both offensively and defensively, to destroy Iraqi capability to threaten the security and stability of the region, to render Iraqi forces in the [Kuwait theater of operations] ineffective, and to minimize the loss of life.11
The air war was planned as a three-phase operation: a strategic bombing campaign, followed by the establishment of air superiority in the Kuwait military theater, followed by attacks on Iraqi troops in the Kuwaiti military theater, termed "battlefield preparation." But ratherthan implementing these phases sequentially, a decision was made to execute the three phases of the air campaign almost simultaneously, "because of the large number of available aircraft and early attainment of air supremacy."12 The Pentagon notes that this merging of the phases applied "the greatest amount of pressure from the opening minutes of the war."13 The Pentagon states that it sought to "weaken signficantly the Saddam Hussein regime by bombing carefully selected targets whose destruciton would collapse vital military capabilities and military-related industrial systems, but leave most of the basic economic infrastructure of the country intact."14
About 120,000 sorties were flown by coalition air forces during the 43-day war, of which 60 percent were combat, or attack, missions, according to the Pentagon; the balance were support missions.15 Over 35,000 combat sorties were flown against targets in the Kuwait-Iraq military theater, leaving approximately 32,200 attack missions presumably executed against targets in "Iraq's heartland."16 Nearly 60 percent of the sorties were carried out by the U.S. Air Force.17 Of the total number of U.S. air strikes, 23 percent were conducted by aircraft from the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines, according to Adm. Frank B. Kelso, the chief of naval operations.18
Military briefers in Saudi Arabia reported on February 4 that the allies had been flying one bombing mission per minute against Iraq, on average, since the war began, a tempo that continued until the ceasefire.19 Some 84,200 tons of ordnance were dropped -- but only 7,400 tons of it precision or "smart" bombs, 90 percent of which was dropped by U.S. aircraft.20 In addition, 288 sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from surface ships and submarines in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.21
According to the Pentagon, the rules of engagement that applied for U.S. forces were shared by all members of the military coalition:
As military command relationships developed among the Coalition, US [Rules of Engagement] became effective for, or were consistent with, all Coalition combatant forces. This compatability was ensured by coordination meetings between US and allied commanders.22
U.S. PUBLIC STATEMENTS
THE PUBLIC COMMITMENT
The Pentagon described the war against Iraq as "the most important test of American arms in 25 years."1 It was also a war in which one side explicitly and repeatedly declared its intention to abide by the rules of war with respect to minimizing harm to civilians. This commitment was emphasized throughout the war by the Bush Administration and by U.S. military spokespersons. In its July 1991 preliminary report about the conduct of the conflict, the Defense Department stated:
The Coalition military campaign will be remembered for its effort, within the bounds of war, to be humane. Coalition airstrikes were designed to be as precise as possible. Coalition pilots took additional risks and planners spared legitimate military targets to minimize civilian casualties.2
As was stressed repeatedly during the war, the Pentagon noted in its report that the use of high-technology precision weapons helped minimize Iraqi civilian casualties:
Careful targeting and expert use of technological superiority --including precision guided munitions -- throughout the strategic air campaign minimized collateral damage and casualties to thecivilian population, reflecting US policy that Saddam Hussein and his military machine, not the Iraqi people, were the enemy.3
While acknowledging that "some" Iraqi civilian casualties and damage occurred, the Pentagon speaks only in terms of Iraq's responsibility for these losses:
Despite conducting the most discriminate military campaign in history, to include extraordinary measures by US and Coalition aircrews to minimize collateral civilian casualties, some collateral damage and injury did occur. The Government of Iraq located military assets (personnel, weapons, and equipment) in populated areas and adjacent to protected objects (mosques, medical facilities, historical/cultural sites) in an effort to obtain protection for its military forces. Military supplies were stored in mosques, schools, and hospitals in Iraq and Kuwait; a cache of Silkworm surface-to-surface missiles was found inside a school in Kuwait City, for example.4
Iraq, the Pentagon argues, used civilian casualties and damage to manipulate public opinion. At the same time, the Pentagon clears coalition forces of any responsibility for unlawful activity:
Iraq utilized any collateral damage that occurred --including damage or injury resulting from its own air defenses -- in its disinformation campaign, conveying the impression that the Coalition was targeting populated areas and protected sites. The Coalition's bombing of legitimate Iraqi military targets, notwithstanding that it resulted in collateral injury and damage to civilians and private property, was lawful.5
As this report shows, the facts do not warrant this facile dismissal of any possiblity that allied forces violated the rules of war.
"THIS IS NOT A WAR AGAINST THE IRAQI PEOPLE"
The policy of the U.S. military during Operation Desert Storm toward civilian objects and the civilian population was clearly articulated by Gen. Schwarzkopf. Echoing earlier statements by President Bush and Defense Secretary Cheney, he said at a briefing on January 18:
[W]e are doing absolutely everything we possibly can in this campaign to avoid injuring or hurting or destroying innocent people. We have said all along that this is not a war against the Iraqi people.
President George Bush reinforced these comments in a speech on January 28 and went on to spell out the limits imposed on the aerial attacks: "We do not seek the destruction of Iraq," he said. "We have respect for the people of Iraq, for the importance of Iraq in the region. We do not want a country so destabilized that Iraq itself could be a target for aggression." Gen. Schwarzkopf, while noting the inevitability of civilian casualties, stated categorically on January 30 that civilians were not being targeted for attack:
We never said there won't be any civilian casualties. What we have said is, the difference between us and the Iraqis is we are not deliberately targeting civilians, and that's the difference. There are going to be casualties. Unfortunately, that's what happens when you have a war.6
Maj. Gen. Robert Johnston, Gen. Schwarzkopf's deputy, stated at a briefing on February 4 that Iraq was "trying to move their aircraft into residential areas, recognizing that we have avoided civilian targets."7 Hecited one case of an airplane hidden in a school, but pledged: "We will not target civilian areas."
THE TARGETS IN IRAQ
Throughout the war, U.S. military and civilian spokespersons repeatedly stressed that indisputable military targets were being attacked, and generally avoided mention of attacks on "dual-use" objects that served military and civilian purposes. In a speech from the Oval Office two hours after coalition forces commenced operations against Iraq, President Bush stated that "military targets in Iraq" were under attack. He promised that Iraq's "nuclear bomb potential" and "chemical weapons facilities" would be destroyed. To protect the lives of all the coalition forces, "Saddam's vast military arsenal" would be targeted, the President pledged. In a statement at the Pentagon the same evening, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney said: "Our focus is on the destruction of Saddam Hussein's offensive military capabilities". He added that the air assaults by U.S., British, Kuwaiti and Saudi forces were undertaken "after months of careful planning." He emphasized that, at the direction of President Bush, "great care has been taken to focus on military targets, to minimize U.S. casualties, and to do everything possible to avoid injury to civilians in Iraq and Kuwait."
Gen. Colin Powell said at a press conference on January 17 that Saddam Hussein himself was not a target, and that the bombing in Baghdad was mainly against military objectives:
The purpose of our bombing facilities in the vicinity of Baghdad is essentially to go after the command and control system of the Iraqi armed forces. We're looking at principally military targets, command and control installations, air-defense sites that could put our planes at risk, but they are militarily oriented targets.8
It is worth noting that Gen. Powell chose his words carefully, stating that "principally military targets" in Baghdad were being attacked. He did not mention at this time, for example, that the supply of electricity to civilians in Baghdad -- and elsewhere throughout Iraq -- was being systematically destroyed in allied attacks. A Harvard University on-site investigation established that in the first days of the air war 13 of Iraq's 20 electricity-generating facilities were destroyed or incapacitated.9
Allied spokespersons continued to reinforce the public's perception that the bomb and missile attacks were executed against indisputable military targets. At a news briefing on January 23, Defense Secretary Cheney said that in the seven days since the air war began, allied aircraft had flown over 10,000 combat and support sorties. There was no mention of Iraq's electrical system, for example, in Secretary Cheney's description of the targets:
[W]e began by concentrating on a carefully planned set of military targets that we will continue to hit over the course of the next several days and weeks. We've started with command and control, his communications facilities, his air defense units and radars, his airfields, his Scud missile launchers.
We've gone after the factories where Iraq has produced chemical and biological weapons, and until recently, continued working on nuclear weapons. We've also gone after the mainstay of Saddam's land forces, the Republican Guard units located near the Iraqi-Kuwait border.
All of these targets we chose in advance. The pilots of the allied air forces have operated in accordance with clear instructions to launch weapons only when they arecertain they've selected the right targets under correct conditions.10
At the end of the second week of Operation Desert Storm, Gen. Schwarzkopf continued the pattern, by selectively noting the targets in Iraq that were under attack:
In our first phase, what we wanted to do was disrupt the leadership command and control; destroy centralized air-defense command and control; attack combat aircraft in the air and on the ground to achieve air superiority; damage nuclear, biological, and chemical storage and production capability; and commence attack on the Republican Guards. Once we had that done, we planned to go into a second phase, which was to destroy the air-defense radars and missiles in the Kuwaiti theater of operation to achieve undisputed control of the air; and finally, to sever supply lines in the Kuwaiti theater of operation. Once that phase was completed, we planned then to isolate the Kuwaiti theater of operation, continue our attacks on the Republican Guards, and we had other objectives which I will not discuss further.11
Gen. Schwarzkopf also announced that 44 airfields had been targeted for attack12 and that efforts were underway "to isolate the Kuwaiti theater of operations by taking out all the bridges and supply lines that ran between the north and the southern part of Iraq. That was to prevent reinforcements and supplies reaching the southern part of Iraq and Kuwait."13
As with the earlier public statements, neither Gen. Schwarzkopf or other U.S. military or civilian officials publicly stated that dual-use installations providing electricity, television and telephone service to Iraqi civilians were being systematically destroyed by allied bombs and missiles. For example, on February 11, White House spokesperson Marlin Fitzwater, chose to emphasize that "military facilities and installations" were the targets of allied attacks:
We are going to such great lengths to target military facilities and military installations and to not try to do any damage to civilian targets. And it does strike me that Saddam Hussein must be having some impact in trying to convince the world otherwise. And that is disturbing to us, because clearly one of his major objectives is to show that the United States is attacking civilians and not the military, and that is not the case.14
The Pentagon reported that allied forces flew a total of 18,000 attack sorties during the war against strategic targets.15 Yet to date, specific individual targets of coalition forces' bomb and missile attacks in Iraq have not been publicly itemized. The July report only speaks in generic terms:
The key theater military objectives as stated in Operations Order (OPORD) 91-001, dated 19 January 1991 were: attack Iraqi political-military leadership and command and control; gain and maintain air superiority; sever Iraqi supply lines; destroy known chemical, biological and nuclear production, storage, and delivery capabilities; destroy Republic Guard forces in the [Kuwait theater of operations]; and liberate Kuwait City.16
OTHER POSSIBLE GOALS OF THE BOMBING CAMPAIGN
There were indications during the war that the bombing of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities was also intended to serve purposes other than those publicly articulated by Pentagon and White House spokesmen. A journalist who was in Baghdad during the early days of the air war wrote that the city after the first night of bombing "did not show much destruction," but added that Iraq's infrastructure appeared to be under systematic attack:
[I]t was clear that a major objective of the allied raids --in addition to undermining the Iraqi military capability -- was to shatter normal life. In the first two days, the allied forces destroyed, or at least hit, all the power stations and the telecommunications centres. Telephone lines went dead, there was no electricity and many districts in Baghdad ran short of tap water. Even the central post office was considered "a strategic target." The systematic bombardment of public facilities confirmed that the objective was to destroy the country's infrastructure.18
This early analysis was supported by a Washington Post correspondent who was in Baghdad toward the war's end:
In crippling Iraq's infrastructure, the allies paved the way for an overwhelming military victory. But the strategy, familiar to guerrilla armies the world over, also has had the effect of demoralizing Iraq's civilian population.19
An experienced war correspondent who was based in Baghdad prior to and during part of the air war told Middle East Watch: "Early on I had the impression that the aim was to destroy the infrastructure, to destroy the country economically."20
Statements by Pentagon officials give weight to these journalists' views. One official told The Washington Post that the bombing of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities was "a way of letting the [Iraqi] leadership know that we care about them and want to bring the war home to them."21 He also said that military planners hoped that the unrelenting aerial bombardment would provoke a coup against Saddam Hussein.22 Gen. Schwarzkopf alluded to the same goal when he said in a television interview with CBS that "the entourage around" Saddam may "crack when they see the devastation that's being wrought on the country and on the armed forces."23 Information obtained by Middle East Watch suggests that at least two Baghdad neighborhoods may have been attacked by allied bombers in part because top Baath party officials and Saddam Hussein's two sons had homes there (see Chapter Five). In addition, U.S. military briefers refused to provide details, during and after the war,about the targets in Baghdad that were the objects of continued bombing raids in the city (see Chapter Five).
One experienced British journalist noted: "The bombing of ministries in Baghdad quite unrelated to the war effort seemed to many to ram home that message, which is in essence that there will be no Iraq left to govern and no means by which to govern it unless Saddam is removed soon."24
These views were reinforced by President Bush's remarks on February 15, in reply to the Iraqi Revolution Command Council (RCC) statement about the readiness of Iraq to deal with U.N. Security Council Resolution 660, which demanded that Iraqi military forces withdraw from Kuwait. In rejecting the RCC proposal, the President said: "[T]here's another way for the bloodshed to stop, and that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside...."25 After the war, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker said [on March 17]: "We would like to see a change in that Government. We've made no bones about it."26
The goal of encouraging the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime apparently was adopted in August 1990, when President Bush signed a secret authorization that permitted the Central Intelligence Agency and other U.S. civilian agencies to engage in covert intelligence operations to "destabilize" the Iraqi government.27 President Bush at a National Security Council meeting on August 3 reportedly instructed the CIA to begin work on a plan:
Less than two weeks later, the President signed the top-secret authorization for the CIA to begin covert operations to overthrow Saddam.29 According to The New York Times, a few senior members of Congress were briefed about the authorization in December 1990. Clearly, the wide-scale disruption of civilian life in Iraq caused by the allied bombing of the country's infrastructure would not be incompatible with the goal of destabilizing Saddam Hussein's regime.
In its July 1991 preliminary report on the conduct of the war, the Department of Defense noted that one of the "five overarching goals" of the air war campaign was to "isolate and incapacitate the Iraqi regime."30 The report states, for example, that if Saddam and other members of the Iraqi leadership were rendered unable "to maintain a firm grip on their internal population control mechanisms, they might be compelled to comply with Coalition demands."31 In this respect, it is noteworthy that in the opening hour of the air war, U.S. Stealth bombers struck the headquarters of the internal security and intelligence organizations in Baghdad.32 The report also notes that the early targeting of Iraq's telecommunications system disrupted the leadership's ability to communicate with the civilian population:
Saddam Hussein's internal telecommunications capability was badly damaged so that, while he could broadcast televised propaganda to the world via satellite, he was limited in the use of telecommunications to influence the Iraqi populace.33
Did the allies pursue their aim of overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime by bombing Iraq's infrastructure?
The widespread disruption of civilian life clearly had the effect of destabilizing the Iraqi government. The Washington Post reached a similar conclusion, based on interviews after the war with U.S. military officers involved in planning the air war, when it concluded that many of the targets in Iraq "were chosen only secondarily to contribute to the military defeat of Baghdad's occupation army in Kuwait."34 One Air Force planner interviewed by the Post bluntly stated that the attacks on the country's electrical system were intended to send a message to the Iraqi people: "We're not going to tolerate Saddam Hussein or his regime. Fix that, and we'll fix your electricity."35 (See Chapter Four for additional information.)
Although Middle East Watch's mandate allows it to take no position on the propriety of the U.S. effort to destabilize Saddam Hussein's regime, the laws of war outlined in Chapter One, which MEW does seek to uphold, require a critical examination of the means used to pursue this goal. Those laws require as their "basic rule" that all parties to a conflict distinguish the civilian population from combatants, and civilian objects from military objectives, and direct their operations only against military objectives. Deliberately creating hardships for civilians so that they might rise up against their dictatorial leader would violate that essential distinction. This customary-law principle is set forth in Article 51(2) of Protocol I, which states: "The civilian population as such,as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited."
"Bringing the war home to the enemy," to demoralize civilians and lead them to pressure their leaders to surrender, is a tactic that has marked military history. But civilian morale is not a permissible military objective under the laws of war, as discussed in Chapter One. The balance of this report operates from the premise that attacks intended to weaken the morale of the civilian population in order to force capitulation, surrender, or a change of government, are prohibited under the rules set forth in Chapter One of this report. This issue is discussed at greater length in Chapter Four of this report.
The Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 gave greater responsibility to the commanders-in-chief of regional commands such as CENTCOM, in relationship to the different branches of the U.S. military. According to the Pentagon, "for Desert Shield and Desert Storm, [Gen. Schwarzkopf] was designated the supported [Commander-in-Chief], to be provided with needed assistance and forces from the other [Commanders-in-Chief] and the Services, who assumed supporting roles. These supported and supporting relationships were clarified in [the Goldwater-Nichols Act]." (See Pentagon Interim Report, at 26-1.)
27 Michael Wines, "CIA Joins Military Move to Sap Iraqi Confidence," The New York Times, January 19, 1991. Also see Bob Woodward, The Commanders (Simon & Schuster, New York: 1991) at 282 [hereinafter Woodward].