Twenty years ago, as Americans were celebrating Valentine’s Day, Iraqi husbands and fathers in the Amiriyah section of Baghdad were peeling the remains of their wives and children off the walls and floor of a large neighborhood bomb shelter.
The men had left the shelter the evening before, so their wives would have some measure of privacy as they sought refuge from the U.S.-led coalition bombing campaign, which was at its most intense pre-ground war stage.
All of the more than 400 women and children were incinerated or boiled to death at 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 13, 1991, when two F-117 stealth fighter-bombers each dropped a 2,000-pound laser-guided “smart bomb” on the civilian shelter at Amiriyah.
It was one of those highly accurate “surgical strikes.” The first bomb sliced through 10 feet of reinforced concrete before a time-delayed fuse exploded, destroying propane and water tanks for heating water and food. Minutes later the second bomb flew precisely through the opening that had been cut by the first and exploded deeper in the shelter creating an inferno.
Fire rose from the lower level to the area where the women and children were seeking shelter – and so did the boiling water. Those who did not burn to death immediately or die from the bombs’ impact were boiled or steamed to death in the intense heat.
The bombs hit toward the end of the month-long bombing campaign to “soften up” Iraq before the U.S.-led ground invasion to drive Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
The aerial bombing had begun on Jan. 17, 1991; the coalition flew over 100,000 sorties, dropping 88,500 tons of bombs. U.S. government documents show that the bombs were targeted on civilian as well as military infrastructure. They were very accurate.