Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
Wednesday, February 26, 2003
Presenter: Senior Defense Official
Briefing on Human Shields in Iraq
Staff: Well, thanks for all -- thank you all for coming this afternoon.
It was just last week, I think the 19th, that the secretary stated that he hoped to bring you a more detailed briefing on the subject of human shields at a later date. Well, today is that later date, and today we have with us someone that you'll be able to refer to as "a senior Defense official" -- I'm not sure why it says it just like this -- but "a senior defense official" that will talk to you today.
As you know, Saddam has a long pattern of holding noncombatants, and our subject matter expert today is prepared to discuss that with you in some detail. We'll go for about 30 minutes or until you run out of questions.
Sr. Defense Official: Thank you. Thank you. Good afternoon.
I'm going to touch on several dimensions of the issue of human shields, and we've got some materials to hand out to you at the end of the briefing that will expand on some areas that I won't go into great detail on. But I will refer to those in the course of the briefing.
This is a very brief presentation on a rather complicated aspect of Iraq's use of human shields and what we call deceptive sanctuaries. We describe these activities as countertargeting. It's kind of a unique, catchy phrase. And these -- countertargeting describes the techniques which can be used against military operations, overhead reconnaissance or even U.N. inspectors.
As you recall, the Serbs carried out this kind of countertargeting measures against NATO air power and reconnaissance during Operation Allied Force. These included dispersing military equipment and units to civilian facilities -- excuse me -- extensive use of underground facilities, creating false bomb damage, and disseminating false or misleading reports and propaganda about the true extent of civilian casualties and damage to civilian structures.
Iraq's countertargeting activities have several objectives. These objectives are directly related to the strategy that Iraq is employing against the current inspection regime. First and foremost, it aims at preserving Iraq's military capabilities. To achieve this, it seeks to exploit and complicate coalition military planning by placing Iraqi military forces in so-called no-strike areas, that is areas that the coalition would probably avoid targeting with military force, even if lawful military targets are located there, because of their proximity to civilian neighborhoods, humanitarian facilities or cultural and religious sites.
Second, it aims at creating a strategic incident, if one of these facilities is damaged or destroyed, or civilian casualties occur, in order to at least discredit a coalition military campaign, and at best, if possible, as occurred during Desert Storm, bring it to a temporary halt.
So, to achieve these objectives, you'll see Iraq employs both human shields and deceptive sanctuaries.
Next slide, please. Oh, you're one step -- you're one slide ahead of me. Back, back. There we go.
These are the subject areas we're going to walk through today.
This incident involved the famous Al-Firdos bunker or Al- Amiriya bunker that occurred during February 1991, at the height of the coalition air campaign in Desert Storm.
In this incident, a bunker in downtown Baghdad was being used by the Iraqi government as a key command-and-control node. As you can see from this picture, the "before" picture, on the left- hand side, the bunker was heavily camouflaged and, sure enough, located near a school and a mosque.
The lower section of this bunker housed the government command personnel, while the upper portion was apparently open for civilian use. When the bunker was destroyed, the Iraqis launched a media campaign emphasizing the civilian casualties. To this day, the Al Firdos bunker is still preserved as a shrine.
What followed this incident? A very intense campaign by Iraq to highlight the civilian losses, but no mention was ever made of the command function of this bunker.
Sr. Defense Official: -- but when you put a weapon on a building, that presents a legitimate -- but what it can do, again, is create the potential for a strategic incident, that -- here's a civilian building. There are foreigners inside. The building gets bombed because of the antiaircraft threat. Foreign journalists get killed. You know, it can turn ugly quickly.
Q: Could you describe in a little more detail the 1991 incident? Did the United States know that that building had both civilians and military commanders in it? And what was the military response to that? Did it shut down bombing in Baghdad for a day or for an hour or --
Sr. Defense Official: Yeah. As I recall, you know, the United States knew that was being used as a command node in downtown Baghdad. There were some tip-offs to that. One of them was the camouflage pattern -- you know, the fact that they camouflaged the building. The -- after the story hit the papers, the coalition stopped bombing in downtown Baghdad -- I believe it was for four days or seven days.
Q: And did they know that when they initially targeted it that there were civilians inside on the second floor?
Sr. Defense Official: These were designated as civilian bomb shelters -- there were, like, 20-plus of these throughout Baghdad. So that possibility was there.
Yes, in the back?
Q: Yeah, you left now the impression that there is a lot of religious sites that the Iraqis used before. Are you of the same impression, or is it only by accident?
Sr. Defense Official: Oh, no, it's quite deliberate. You mean used mosques, et cetera?
Q: We've heard a number of times Saddam Hussein sleeps in a different place every night. Do you know whether he has bunkers or compounds or whatever, in civilian areas in order to protect himself, should U.S. forces come after him personally?
Sr. Defense Official: Absolutely. In fact, one of the rumors about the Al-Firdos bunker was he was there an hour before the bomb hit the bunker. He's got a very extensive network of bunkers. We know there are some bunkers in and near mosques. He's got, of course, his extensive palaces throughout Baghdad and throughout the country that he goes to and moves to, to find protection. So this is, you know, clearly part of a broader strategy, survival strategy.
Q: You're not saying the U.S. forces will not hit military targets placed in a way you're describing, are you?
Sr. Defense Official: I can't speak to what our operational planning would be. I mean, the Al-Firdos example -- horrendous. You know, we voiced our regret about killing civilians. But again, it was a legitimate military target, and -- war is hell.
Q: Follow-up. So human shields placed in locations that you've mentioned, those people are --
Sr. Defense Official: They're at risk.
Sr. Defense Official: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, one of the points, quite clearly, is -- and they're aware, that this is placing yourself at risk. And it's a very difficult issue.
Yes. In the back. And then we'll --