“The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations. The parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations.” – Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, Article 51
Based on what he has done in the past, if conflict with Iraq should occur, Saddam is almost certain to lay a trap for the world’s media. He apparently believes that dead Iraqi civilians are his most powerful weapon in trying to create revulsion against any military action that might occur against Iraq.
During Operation Desert Storm, the coalition chose its targets carefully and had strict rules of engagement intended to avoid bombing innocent civilians. Even with careful targeting, fire
discipline, and the well-known use of precision munitions in the campaign, some civilian casualties occurred. Saddam Hussein used deaths of innocent civilians to try to undermine international and domestic support for the American-led coalition, and the Iraqi regime made many claims that civilian targets had been hit by coalition air forces, with loss of innocent civilian lives.
The Iraqi regime’s propaganda campaign went far beyond normally-expected protests over
civilian casualties. The Iraqis quickly realized that placing military assets – including tanks, missiles, and command-and-control facilities – close to civilians and civilian infrastructure could yield substantial benefits. By shielding military assets with civilians and civilian infrastructure, Saddam understood that coalition forces would either avoid attacking targets close to civilians or risk severe political damage from unintended civilian deaths at what would have appeared to be a purely military site.
The co-location strategy has three objectives:
To conceal military assets;
To deter coalition attacks on military assets that could not be concealed; and
Failing the first two objectives, to capitalize on attacks by generating civilian casualties and
destruction of cultural sites.
Some of the regime’s co-locations were clearly detectable through overhead imagery. Those that
were not yielded tragic results – and a rich vein of propaganda. This is a long-standing practice:
Throughout the country, the Iraqi government continues to locate military assets close to or together with civilian facilities and cultural sites, and it continues to build new mosques and other civilian facilities in or near military areas.
Iraqi Co-Locations of Military and Civilians. Then…
CNN reporter Peter Arnett wrote that one night during the Gulf War a SCUD missile and launcher appeared on the front lawn of the Al-Rashid Hotel, where he and other journalists were staying.
In 1990, the international press widely reported that Iraq had held more than 1,000 Western and
Japanese men, women, and children as human shields at about 70 sites in Iraq, including air force bases, military garrisons, weapons factories, and power plants before eventually releasing them under international pressure.
During the Gulf War, the Iraqi regime placed two military aircraft next to the ancient Ur ziggurat
near Tallil, Iraq. A coalition strike on the aircraft could well have caused extensive damage to this ancient Mesopotamian cultural treasure.
When coalition leaders publicly stated that religious sites would not be targeted, Saddam began
using these sites to shield military equipment and units. In other cases, dual use facilities were
exploited for propaganda value.
On January 21, 1991, coalition bombers hit what the Iraqis claimed was a “baby milk factory” in
Baghdad. The United States insisted that Iraq was using it as a biological-weapons development
site. It appears the facility had briefly functioned as a “baby milk” factory in 1979 and 1980, and
then again in the spring and summer of 1990, before the Iraqi regime began to use it as a biological weapons site.
As U.S. officials pointed out at the time, the Iraqi regime was defending the site as it would a
military facility. After the Gulf War, UNSCOM inspectors discovered that three scientists from
the Iraqi regime’s main biological weapons facility had been assigned to the “baby milk” factory.
Since the Gulf War, the Iraqis regularly have placed Air Defense missile systems and associated
equipment in and around numerous civilian areas including parks, mosques, hospitals, hotels,
crowded shopping districts, ancient cultural and religious sites, and even cemeteries. They have
placed rocket launchers next to soccer stadiums that were in active use, parked operational SAM
systems in civilian industrial centers.
In late 1997, the Iraqi regime made sure the world media filmed Iraqi civilians, including women
and children, at military and industrial sites. The U.S. government later learned that it then
secretly replaced the civilians with prisoners, who were mostly opposition figures but also
included some criminals. If the sites had been attacked, the Iraqi regime was poised to claim that
any prisoners killed were the Iraqi civilians who had previously been there.
In April 2002, commercial satellite imagery showed that the Iraqis had constructed 15 military
revetments near a school in Saribadi, a town 31 miles southeast of Baghdad. Some of the revetments, essentially holes in which military vehicles are parked as protective measures against air strikes, are less than 11 yards from the wall surrounding the school.
In 2002, the United States government learned that the Iraqi government had ordered taxis and buses to be repainted with military colors in order to look like military vehicles.
On January 8, 2003, the Associated Press and others reported that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister
Tareq Aziz welcomed foreign volunteers to come to Iraq and serve as human shields around
civilian facilities in the event of armed conflict, thereby planting the idea that civilian facilities
would be subject to attack. Iraq issued similar calls for volunteers in 1990. In the event of
conflict, such human shields would most likely be deployed around military targets – either to
deter strikes against the targets or to create casualties in the event of their being struck.