CIVILIAN CASUALTIES AND DAMAGE:
Based on information released by official Saudi sources, Iraq launched 37 missiles1 at Saudi Arabia during the war. In addition, one missile was fired toward Bahrain2 on February 22 and one toward Qatar on February 26. All told, the missile attacks took a mercifully low toll on Saudi Arabia's civilian residents: only one civilian was reported killed, on January 25 in Riyadh, and another 77 were reported injured, most of them lightly. There were no reports of civilian casualties or damage after an attack on February 14 that slightly injured four people in Hafr al-Batin. On the other hand, the missile attack on the U.S. Army barracks in Dhahran on February 25 killed 28 U.S. soldiers and injured 97.
The Iraqi missile strikes began at dawn on January 18 and continued throughout the war until 1:00 am on February 26. It appears that most of the Iraqi missiles were aimed at military targets in Saudi Arabia. First, U.S. military officials have admitted that in some cases military targets were the objects of Iraq's attacks (see Overview to Part III). Second, one Iraqi missile, not challenged by a Patriot, precisely hit a legitimate military target: the U.S. military barracks in Dhahran on February 25. A month earlier, a six-story Interior Ministry building in Riyadh was totally destroyed on the night of January 25 by what the U.S. command said was the warhead of an Iraqi missile that "careened into the building" after the missile itself was hit by a Patriot. The number of reported successful Patriot intercepts of other incoming Iraqi missilesover Saudi Arabia makes it impossible to definitively ascertain the objects of the other attacks.
However, based on official Saudi accounts, there were at least ten separate attacks -- involving a reported 15 or 16 Iraqi missiles -- "towards the Eastern Province," perhaps a reference to the air base at Dhahran. Another six missiles were fired, in three separate attacks, at Hafr al-Batin, where the military base and airport at the adjacent King Khalid Military City served the allied forces. If Iraq in fact was aiming at these military targets, the use of its surface-to-surface ballistic missiles cannot be condemned under the laws of war as an inappropriate means of attack. With a reported "circular error probable" of 1,000 meters, the Iraqi missiles could be expected to land within the boundaries of a legitimate military target such as a large air base. But the same missiles -- with the same wide "circular error probable" -- must be viewed quite differently when fired at substantially smaller targets in populated sections of Riyadh.
A missile that is expected only 50 percent of the time to fall within a radius of 1000 meters from an intended target lacks sufficient accuracy to be used to attack individual military targets in an urban environment, in violation of the customary-law requirement to discriminate between military targets and civilian objects. Moroever, in some cases, Iraqi military communiques indicated that the purpose of the attacks on the Saudi capital was to "pound" the city, to "punish" and "harass" the population, and "to disturb the sleep of the tyrants," language clearly suggestive of an intent to target and terrorize the civilian population. This is only reinforced by the substantial proportion of missiles sent toward Riyadh.
The information in this chapter is based on statements issued by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) daily English Service in Riyadh. Press accounts are cited when they provide information supplemental to the official Saudi news statements and military communiques. Middle East Watch did not conduct its own field research in Saudi Arabia on this subject.
The First Attacks: Dhahran Air Base
The Pentagon said a Patriot shot down an Iraqi missile in flight as it headed for an airfield in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on [January 18], the same morning that eight Iraqi missiles hit in the Tel Aviv-Haifa area.6
According to Shenon's report, the U.S. Army crew manning a Patriot surface-to-air missile battery on the outskirts of the facility saw the missile on their computer screens just after 4 am on January 18; a Patriot wasfired at 4:28 am and it destroyed the Iraqi missile.7 A Saudi military spokesman said that the missile was launched from Basra and that there were no casualties or damage.8 The spokesman did not identify the target, saying simply that the missile was fired "toward the Saudi eastern region."9
In the second attack, at 10 pm on January 20, two Iraqi missiles were reportedly fired "at the direction of the Eastern Province," presumably again at the Dhahran base.10 The official Saudi statement provided no other details, except to note that the missiles were destroyed in the air by Patriots and there were no casualties. Neither Saudi nor other allied military spokesmen claimed that these first missiles were indiscriminately fired at civilian areas.
There was conflicting information about whether Iraq had launched two or three missiles in the January 20 attack. A spokesman for the Saudi joint command reported that on January 20, at around 10:00 pm, three missiles were fired at the eastern region of the country and were intercepted and destroyed in the air before hitting their targets.11 The following day the Saudi Press Agency issued two conflicting reports, one in which a spokesman for the joint command stated that two missiles had been launched at the Eastern Province, and another in which Col.Ahmed Mohammed Al-Rubayan, chief spokesman for the Joint Forces, said that three missiles were launched toward the Eastern Province.12
First Missiles Fired at Riyadh on January 21, Twelve Injured
In the first Iraqi missile attack on Riyadh, U.S. military briefers said that of seven missiles launched at 12:45 am on January 21, four were fired at Riyadh; two others were fired at Dhahran and one fell into the Gulf waters off the coast of Dhahran.14
· conflicting information about the cause of damage on the ground: The Saudi military spokesman said that the missiles fired toward Dhahran on January 21 were intercepted and destroyed by Patriots before reaching their targets; similarly, he stated that all of the four missiles launched toward Riyadh that night "were intercepted and destroyed by Patriot missiles."15 He also noted that a crater in one of Riyadh's suburbs, caused by an explosion, was being investigated.16 At a U.S. military briefing in Riyadh, journalists asked about the crater in Riyadh and were told that "right now U.S. [Central Command] has notreceived any such information." The briefer stated categorically that "the ones in the Riyadh area -- all four were engaged and destroyed."17
What may well have been responsible was a Patriot missile that misfired. (During a fact-finding mission to Israel, Middle East Watch obtained a similar account to the one that follows; see Chapter Eight). Jeffrey Lenorovitz, the European editor of Aviation Week & Space Technology, who had witnessed test firings of Patriots in the United States, reported that he saw one Patriot misfire. "I'm not 100 percent sure, but just watching the Patriots, it did not launch properly," he said. He then visited the impact site and saw a 15-foot-wide crater, five feet deep, where he believed the Patriot had landed:
[H]e witnessed the launching of a Patriot anti-missile missile and saw the missile crash after traveling horizontally less than two miles....[he] said the missile landed in a vacant lot next to an apartment building in central Riyadh, near the old airport in the capital. The windows of the apartment bulding were shattered, he said, and some residents appeared to be slightly injured. No ambulances were present, he said, adding that he had arrived at the site soon after the missile had hit.18
Other reporters also saw the crater, which they described as 10 feet deep and 15 feet wide, near the military base at the old Riyadh airport. An office building in front of the crater and a smaller building next to it were damaged, apparently by an explosion.19 But The New York Times reported that "a Pentagon official said he had no reports of any missileslanding in Riyadh, and added that the military was investigating."20 The findings of this investigation was never publicly released, to Middle East Watch's knowledge.
The Saudi Press Agency reported the following day that the Interior Ministry said twelve people had been slightly injured in the attack on Riyadh, as a result of "some shrapnel" which "fell on a building in one of the districts of Riyadh." The injured were brought to hospitals and ten were released immediately, while two others required treatment.21 No information was released, however, about whether the damage was caused directly by the impact of the Iraqi missile or by debris from a Patriot interception, or whether this was the same site where the crater was seen. The Pentagon refused to provide data about the number of Patriots used to intercept the Iraqi missile barrage on January 21, but one U.S. government official told The New York Times that 35 Patriots were launched, at a total cost of $35 million.22
Iraq used a flourish of characteristic rhetoric to acknowledge the missile attacks:
[O]n the night of 20 January, the roaring sound of Iraq's missiles pierced the ears and blinded their eyes with the light of truth. Iraqi missiles pounded the dens of sin in the Dhahran base, symbol of Jewish domination, in the city of Riyadh, the capital of the agent Sa'udi clan, and in the town of al-Dammam, where the corrupt and ignorant Sa'udi clan has gathered....23
The Second Attack on Riyadh, No Civilian Casualties
The two missiles fired toward Riyadh were launched at 3:45 am. Two Patriot missiles were launched and one was seen meeting an incoming target.26 According to the Saudi Press Agency, "one of the missiles was intercepted and destroyed before reaching its target," although the target was not identified.27 Regarding the second missile, the Saudi Press Agency stated that it "was also intercepted and destroyed," but "searching is continuing for obtaining more information on the second missile."28 A Saudi Press Agency report the next day said that one of the missiles "was intercepted and destroyed in the air of Riyadh City. The debris of the second missile, which crashed in the city, is being analyzed as part of the investigations."29 Asked on January 23 about the remains of the missile lying on a street in Riyadh, a Saudi militaryspokesman said it might be part of the Iraqi missile or its fuel reservoir.30
Of the three missiles launched at the Eastern Province, one was intercepted and destroyed, while the two others "were allowed to land harmlessly in non-populated areas."31 At 10:00 p.m. that night, another missile was fired at the Eastern Province and "crashed into the waters of the Arab Gulf."32
Five Missiles Fired on January 23, No Civilian Casualties Reported
One missile was reportedly destroyed in the air "over the military base of Hafr al-Batin."34 Eyewitnesses in Dhahran saw Patriots "knock out one incoming missile low over an airport runway and another at higher altitude over the nearby town of al-Khobar."35
An Iraqi military communique stated that the air base at Dhahran was one of the targets, but did not identify the possible targets in Riyadh: "Iraqi missiles were raining on the heads of the Al Sa'ud traitors in Riyadh, their capital. At the same time our missiles pounded theimperialist base at Dhahran, one of the staging posts for the aggression on our country."36
First Civilian Killed as Missile Levels Wing of Interior Ministry Building in Riyadh on January 25, 30 Injured
Saudi public statements did not identify the target that was destroyed. A military communique stated that there had been two missiles launched at Riyadh, that they were detected, and that Patriots were fired in response. Part of one of the missiles fragmented and "landed on a populated district of Riyadh. As a result, one Saudi citizen was killed and30 persons of different nationalities were injured."40 The injured included 19 Saudis with broken bones and other slight wounds, and 11 lightly injured foreigners: five Egyptians; two Jordanians; one Sudanese woman, and three Bangladeshis.41 Official Saudi reports did not say that the Interior Ministry building was destroyed.
The New York Times reported that apparently there were no casualties inside the Interior Ministry buildings. In addition to the fact that the attack took place at 10:30 pm, many Government buildings were closed, including the two buildings that had been destroyed or damaged, because it was the Muslim Sabbath.42
Iraqi military communiques issued after this attack did not identify the target:
Before midnight last night, with God's help, a violent missile strike was directed at the city of Riyadh, capital of the corrupt Saudi rulers.43...With God's help, before midnight last night, a missile strike was directed at the city of Riyadh, the capital of the agents and slaves from the Saudi clan.44
Whether the missile that hit the Interior Ministry buildings in Riyadh had been deflected by a Patriot or precisely targeted by Iraqi forces, the directhit does not alter the indiscriminate nature of the weapon used. As noted, the best available information suggests that only half of of the modified al-Husayn missiles launched by Iraq could be expected to fall within a 1000-meter radius of the targets at which the missiles were aimed.45 While the laws of probability will nonetheless allow an occasional direct hit, such inaccuracy is incompatible with the customary-law duty to discriminate between civilian and military targets if Iraq aimed its missiles at relatively small targets -- individual buildings, for example, compared to large military airbases -- in urban areas.
The Next Two Attacks: No Reported Casualties or Damage
29 Injured in Riyadh: February 3
The statement added that the injured were 14 Saudis, six Jordanians, four Syrians, three Yemenis, one Kuwaiti and one Pakistani.
No Casualties in February 8 Attack
So that the rulers of the Sa'ud family may know that their masters' attacks on our civilian targets will not pass unpunished, a destructive missile strike with al-Husayn missiles was directed after midnight last night at the capital of the agents and traitors, the city of Riyadh.53
The Iraqi statements about the Riyadh attack clearly were designed to terrorize the civilian population. The Iraqi military communique did notidentify the object of the attack in Riyadh but stated that its aim was "to disturb the sleep of the tyrants":
To punish the traitor Al Sa'ud family, who have allowed the sanctities of the Arabs and Muslims to be violated by the atheists and polytheists, and who have relinquished their land and wasted their funds on vides, debauchery, and on aiding the nation's enemy against the nation, our heroic missile strike at the city of Riyadh, the capital of the atheist Al Sa'ud family, to disturb the sleep of the tyrants.54
Two Foreign Workers Injured in Riyadh: February 11
An Iraqi military spokesman said the attack was designed to punish Saudi Arabia's ruling family:
So that we can inflict the punishment of the nation and the people on the Al-Sa'ud family--the atheists, traitors, and corrupt--our missile force used al-Husayn missiles to strike at Riyadh before midnight last night.58
Saudi Col. Ahmed al-Rubayan, the spokesman for the Joint Forces and Theater of Operations, said on February 13 that Iraq's missile attacks were aimed "at terrorizing the citizens...and added that these missiles have no military signficance."59
Four Slightly Injured in Daytime Attack on Hafr al-Batin: February 14
The Saudi Press Agency reported that "the missiles divided into pieces while at midair without [being] intercepted and five pieces of them fell down on a residential area at Hafr al-Batin region."60 The statement also reported that four people suffered minor injuries, three cars caught on fire and one house and a workshop were destroyed.
An Iraqi military communique said that six -- not two -- missiles were launched in an attack on military targets in Hafr al-Batin:
The Iraqi missile force has directed six destructive strikes at the Hafr al-Batin area, where the atheist aggressors are massed....to take revenge on those who applauded the aggression -- the despicable, shameless, and godlessrulers of Saudi Arabia -- our missile force directed six fierce and destructive missile strikes today at the enemy's sectors and concentrations of its men, weapons and equipment in the Saudi area of Hafar al-Batin, on the other side of our international borders in Kuwait Governorate. The al-Husayn missiles pounded their targets violently, inflicting heavy human and material losses on the savage criminals who have assassinated the children.61
The Hafr al-Batin attack on February 14 was the last reported firing of Iraqi missiles that caused civilian casualties or damage in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the Gulf. Following the February 14 attack, Iraq reportedly launched an additional nine missiles, from February 16 through the early morning hours of February 26. None of these attacks caused civilian casualties or damage.
Based on reports from the Saudi Press Agency, the chronology of these attacks is as follows: February 16, 2 am: one missile fell into the Persian Gulf off Jubail, with no casualties or damage; February 21: three missiles fired at Hafr al-Batin with one intercepted, one exploding spontaneously prior to interception and one crashing harmlessly without interception -- no casualties or damage reported from any of the missiles; February 22, 2:30 am: one missile launched in the direction of the island nation of Bahrain intercepted and destroyed, with debris falling into the Gulf; February 23, 5:05 am: one missile fired toward the Eastern Province exploded in midair without interception and debris fell harmless in the desert; February 24, 9:30 pm: one missile fired toward Riyadh intercepted and destroyed -- debris falls on empty street and no casualties or damage sustained; this report was contradicted by a subsequent Interior Ministry statement which said debris fell on a school and causedsome damage62; February 25, 8:32 pm: one unintercepted missile directly hits a warehouse at the Dhahran air base that had been converted to a military barracks, killing 28 U.S. servicemen; and -- the last attack -- February 26, 1:26 am: one missile, fired toward Qatar, crashed in the Persian Gulf.
With regard to Iraq's missile attacks against Saudi Arabia, it appears that in the majority63 of cases Iraq was aiming at military targets, particularly the allies' air base at Dhahran. The use of a missile with a 1,000-meter circular error probable against large and isolated military targets such as air bases or similar military installations, where the possibility of civilian casualties or damage would be remote, is not a violation of the laws of war.
At the same time, insofar as Iraq launched the same missiles at smaller military targets -- known as "point targets" -- located in or near civilian population centers, that presents different legal issues entirely. The use of such an inaccurate weapon in these situations must be condemned because these weapons do not have the technological capability to distinguish between civilian objects and military targets in populated civilian areas, as required by the laws of war.
Moreover, the language used in official Iraqi statements about some of the attacks suggested indicated that the civilian population inSaudi Arabia itself was the object of attack. Again, this would be a violation of the customary law duty not to target civilians codified in Article 51(2) of Protocol I. Iraqi rhetoric accompanying the missile launches also appears to have been designed to terrorize the Saudi population -- an independent violation of the principle set forth in Article 51(2).
1 In the second Iraqi attack on January 20, official Saudi sources issued conflicting statements about the number of missiles launched in the direction of the Eastern Province. MEW has used the lower figure, two missiles, in our tabulations.
8 Joint Forces Communique No. 2, Riyadh Saudi Arabia Television Network, January 18, 1991, as reported in FBIS, January 22, 1991 at 30. Also see Riyadh Domestic Service, January 18 1991, as reported in FBIS, January 18, 1991 at 20.
63 Based on the accounts in this chapter from Saudi Press Agency statements, the majority of missiles were not fired at Riyadh but, presumptively, at military targets in Dhahran and Hafr al-Batin. Here are the numbers of missiles fired:
Toward Dhahran/Eastern Province: 15-16