Friday/Saturday, April 22,23, 2005
The atrocities committed in Desert Storm did not apply exclusively to civilian destruction. More than 100,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in five weeks, the majority during the 100-hour ground war. You may say, "This is war and people get killed." That’s true, but tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers were killed by illegal weapons in a most brutal manner that contradicted international laws that apply to war.
When then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 18-star General Colin Powell, was asked about the number of deaths the Iraqi military suffered, he said, "I don’t have a clue and I don’t plan to undertake any real effort to find out." This is the same man who stated several months after Desert Storm that his goal was to "make the world scared to death of the United States."
We all know how Powell as Secretary of State lied to the world about Iraq in 2002 and 2003, yet few remember his affinity for killing during the Gulf War. He was just as despicable in 1991 as he was in the early part of the 21st century.
Prior to the start of the ground phase, many countries were trying to dissuade the U.S. from attacking. Moscow came up with a peace plan that Bush called "a cruel hoax." Bush kept saying that the only objective was for Iraqi troops to leave Kuwait. When one reporter asked him how the Iraqis could retreat while they were still being heavily bombed, Bush answered, "That’s for them to find out."
On February 22, 1991, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater played his own "cruel hoax." He stated, "The United States and its coalition partners reiterate that their forces will not attack retreating Iraqi forces.
Despite all the efforts to bring a peaceful conclusion, none was accepted by the U.S. Saddam Hussein ordered a retreat of Iraqi troops from Kuwait on February 25, 1991. This order, with Fitzwater’s earlier statement, appeared to be the beginning of the end of violence in Kuwait and Iraq.
Bush looked at it another way. He now had his chance to slaughter tens of thousands of defenseless soldiers and one of the most barbaric massacres in history began.
On February 25, 1991, at a junction of roads leading from Kuwait City, U.S. Marine aircraft, flying close support for ground troops, arrived and saw a five-vehicle-wide stream moving on he highway out of Kuwait City. The vehicles were occupied by Iraqi military personnel (mostly unarmed) and civilians of many nationalities.
The Marines allowed the vehicles to get out of the city and then laid down on aerial barrage of anti-armor mines across the road, making it impossible for the vehicles to move ahead. There were miles of vehicles and thousands of passengers that were not able to move. Kill zones were assigned to groups of eight aircraft sent into the target area every 15 minutes. According to Major General Royal N. Moore, commander of the Marine Air Wing 3, "It was like a turkey shoot until the weather turned sour."
By the morning of February 26, the 2nd Marine Division and its augmenting armored brigade (the "Tiger" brigade) of the Army’s 2nd Armored Division, arrived on the scene. Other ground division followed. Now, the slaughter on what has become to be known as "The Highway of Death" began in earnest.
U.S. troops observed thousands of Iraqis trying to escape up the highway. They attacked the defenseless soldiers from the high ground, cutting to shreds vehicles and people trapped in a miles-long traffic jam. Allied jets repeatedly pounded the blocked vehicles. Schwarkopf’s orders were "not to let anybody or anything out of Kuwait City."
On February 27, the first words hit the outside world about this carnage, however, it still would be a few more weeks until photographs of the destruction made their way to the public, and then only a few were seen. A pool reporter with the 2nd Armored Division wrote:
As we drove slowly through the wreckage, our armored personnel carrier’s tracks splashed through great pools of bloody water. We passed dead soldiers lying, as if resting, without a mark on them. We found others cut up so badly; a pair of legs in its trousers would be 50 yards from the top half of the body. Four soldiers had died under a truck where they sought protection.
The Iraqi retreat extended north of Jahra, where the two main roads going into Iraq split at al-Mutlaa. Because the main road was so jammed, Iraqi troops were being diverted along a coastal route. The fate of these soldiers was no different from those on the Highway of Death.
According to an Army officer on the scene (the coastal road), "There was nothing but shit strewn everywhere., five to seven miles of just solid bombed-out vehicles. The Air Force had been given the word to work over the entire area, to find anything that moved and take it out."
Surrendering Iraqi troops were also slaughtered. According to a pool report of February 27, "One Navy pilot, who asked not to be identified, said Iraqis have affixed white flags to their tanks and are riding with turrets open, scanning the skies with their binoculars. The flier said that under allied rules of engagement, pilots were still bombing tanks unless soldiers abandoned the vehicles and left them behind."
The first British pilots to arrive at the scenes of slaughter returned to their base. They protested taking part in attacking defenseless soldiers, but, under threat of court martial, they eventually took part in the massacre.
According to a report by Greenpeace called "On Imact:"
Aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ranger, air strikes against Iraqi troops were being launched so feverishly … that pilots said they took whatever bombs happened to be closest to the flight deck. S-3 Viking anti-submarine patrol aircraft were brought into the bombing campaign, carrying cluster bombs. The number of attacking aircraft was so dense that air traffic control had to divert planes to avoid collisions."
On March 10, the scenes at the coastal road were still horrendous. Reporter Michael Kelly described them:
For a 50 or 60-mile stretch from just north of Jahra to the Iraqi border, the road was littered with exploded and roasted vehicles, charred and blown-up bodies … I saw no bodies that had not belonged to men in uniform. It was not always easy to ascertain this because the force of the explosions and the heat of the fires had blown most of the clothing off the soldiers, and often too had cooked their remains into wizened, mummified, charcoal-men.
General McPeak took great pride in the slaughter. He said, "When enemy armies are defeated, they retreat. It’s during this phase that the true fruits of victory are achieved from combat, when the enemy’s disorganized." That statement runs contrary to all the U.S. folklore of war heroes of the past. They were always depicted as being in the heat of battle against strong opposition and they used their courage and ingenuity to prevail. In Kuwait, the U.S. military ran up figures like a World Cup football team would if it played against a team that consisted of 10-year-olds.
Less than a week after the White House spokesman assured the world that U.S. forces would not attack a retreating Iraqi army, most of the army was destroyed while it was retreating. And, in the most volatile ways: burned to death; body parts strewn dozens of yards from each other; melted; etc.
When the operation was completed, Iraq was stuck with the bill. One of the conditions of the cease-fire was that Iraq had to pay Kuwait $50 billion in reparations for damage caused by the U.S. Most people do not realize that when the oil-for-food program began, the first 15% of revenues taken in by Iraq went to Kuwait.
The most appalling aspect of this end to Desert Storm was the bravado of the U.S. government and the top military officers. They ordered this unnecessary slaughter and took glee every time they publicly spoke of it. Powell and McPeak gained the military accolades that had diverted them a couple of decades earlier in Vietnam.
Image of the Highway of Death, 1991
Iraqi victim of Highway of Death