In the morning of February 13, 1991, just before dawn, U.S. planes dropped two 2,000-pound “smart bombs” on a civilian shelter in the Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, killing at least 400 civilians. The Pentagon was fully aware that the facility had been used as a civilian shelter during the Iran-Iraq War and never made any announcements indicating that they considered the shelter’s protected status to have ended. The tragedy of Al Amiriyah resulted in the largest loss of civilian lives to occur in one incident over the course of the First Gulf War, a U.S.-led military response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Brutal sanctions sponsored by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations followed the war and remained in place for over a decade, blocking the entrance of medicine, food, school supplies, and other essentials into Iraq.
Over the course of the nearly two-month Gulf War, densely-populated areas, water-treatment plants, bridges, electric stations, medical facilities, and even shelters, like the one in Amiriyah, were purposefully targeted on the pretext that they served the needs of the Iraqi army. Under international humanitarian law, civilians and civilian objects may never be the deliberate target of attacks. But they paid no heed.
What happened at Al Amiriyah is part of a decades-long policy which continues to plague Iraq today and is perpetuated by a multitude of forces, from the Iraqi government to regional and international powers as well as militias and organized violent groups, all of whom perpetuate similar narratives about the use of civilians as human shields so as to absolve themselves of responsibility for their destructive and divisive attacks. Notwithstanding the decades of war and death, Iraqi civil society continues to persevere.
It is that perseverance, the determination to continue asserting our humanity and demanding our rights in the face of oppression, the display of “strength in the face of fighter jets,” that links the struggles of marginalized communities everywhere, from Palestine to Syria to Baltimore to Iraq, where feminists, labor organizers, environmentalists, and protest movement leaders are building movements and fighting multiple forces of oppression.
This Saturday, the Iraqi Transnational Collective (ITC), an international grassroots collective of Iraqi activists working towards an equal and just Iraq free of oppression, is commemorating the tragedy of the Amiriyah Shelter on its twenty-fifth anniversary. The ITC views this commemoration as one piece of its broader effort to be in touch with Iraq’s resilient history and ongoing struggles, struggles fought by Iraqis who ask not to be victimized but to be remembered and recognized for their strength through community organizing, collective action, cultural preservation, art, and yearning for a just and better Iraq and world.
Join the ITC in this effort by sharing its Amiriyah Resource Toolkit and using it to organize events and/or actions in your area, as well as spreading the word through social media. You can follow the ITC’s Amiriyah commemoration, as well as their future projects, on Facebook and Twitter. The ITC will be using the hashtags: #AlAmiriyah25 #RememberingAlAmiriyah #Iraq #العامرية_ملجأ