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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 March, 2003, 02:58 GMT
Flashback: 1991 Gulf War
Tracer fire lights up Baghdad skyline at start of Operation Desert Storm
Some 1,000 sorties were flown in the first 24 hours of Desert Storm

United States, British and allied planes launched a massive campaign of bombing and missile strikes on targets across Iraq at 2330 GMT on 16 January 1991.

It marked the end of five months of diplomacy and military build-up in response to Iraq's invasion of neighbouring Kuwait on 2 August 1990.

Iraq had vowed to fight rather than pull out. The United Nations deadline, 15 January, ticked by with no withdrawal. The next day, the full might of the 29-member UN-backed coalition was unleashed.

A cruise missile is fired from an aircraft carrier during Operation Desert Storm
Cruise missiles were used in war for the first time

US, British and Saudi Arabian aircraft set out to destroy hundreds of mainly military targets.

The Iraqi capital Baghdad was heavily hit and there were many civilian casualties.

More than 1,000 sorties were flown in the first 24 hours of the Operation Desert Storm campaign.

Cruise missiles were used for the first time in warfare, fired from US warships in the Gulf.

Footage filmed from the missiles' noses as they homed in on their targets was transmitted across the world.

Scud missiles

On Thursday 17 January, Iraq launched its first Scud missile strikes on Tel Aviv and Haifa in Israel.

Another Scud fired at US forces in Saudi Arabia was shot down by a US Patriot missile.

An Iraqi mobile scud launcher
Iraq fired Scuds into Israel and Saudi Arabia

An allied mission to destroy an unknown number of mobile Scud launchers in Iraq began.

As the bombing continued, frightened refugees arriving at the border with Jordan said water and electricity supplies in Baghdad had been cut off.

Iraq detained a number of Kuwaitis at key military and industrial sites in Iraq, apparently as human shields.

Captured pilots from shot-down allied planes were paraded on Iraqi television.

Iraqi troops opened Kuwait's oil taps, spewing approximately eight million barrels of oil into the Gulf, and later set fire to about 600 oil wells.

Civilian casualties

About 10% of the 85,000 tonnes of bombs dropped in the six-week air campaign were so-called smart bombs.

The scene outside the Amirya bomb shelter
At least 315 people died in the Amirya bomb shelter

The allied forces were keen to emphasise what they depicted as the minute accuracy of their weapons, making frequent use of terms like "collateral damage" and "surgical strike" in their briefings.

Controversy flared about a destroyed factory. Iraq claimed it was a baby milk plant but the US said it was a biological weapons facility.

On Wednesday 13 February, a US stealth bomber dropped a laser-guided bomb on what the allies had pinpointed as an important command and control bunker.

But it turned out to be a shelter used by Iraqi civilians during the air raids. At least 315 people were killed, 130 of them children.

Ground war

On Sunday 24 February 1991, allied forces launched a combined land, air and sea assault which overwhelmed the Iraqi army within 100 hours.

A military helicopter flies in front of a burning oil well
Iraqi troops set alight some 600 oil wells

Allied troops swept into Iraq and Kuwait from several points on the Saudi Arabian border, while hundreds of tanks sped north to take on the Iraqi Republican Guard.

More forces took control of the highway running south from Basra to Kuwait, cutting off supply lines as marines and Saudi-led coalition troops pushed into the emirate itself.

By 26 February, Iraq had announced it was withdrawing its forces from Kuwait, but still refused to accept all the UN resolutions passed against it.

Iraqi tanks, armoured vehicles, trucks and troops fleeing the allied onslaught formed huge queues on the main road north from Kuwait to the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

Bombed out vehicles on the Basra-Kuwait road
Thousands died in their vehicles on the Basra road

Allied forces bombed them from the air, killing thousands in their vehicles on what become known as the "Highway of Death".

On 27 February 1991, jubilant Kuwaitis welcomed convoys of allied troops into the city. President George Bush Senior announced a ceasefire from 0400 the following day.

Allied forces across Iraq had by this time captured tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers.

Many were hungry and exhausted and surrendered with little resistance.

The US estimated that 150,000 Iraqi soldiers had deserted.

The allies had lost 148 soldiers in battle, and another 145 in deaths described as "non-battle".

Allied troops march Iraqi prisoners of war
Many Iraqi soldiers surrendered

Estimates for the number of Iraqi soldiers killed range from 60,000 to 200,000 soldiers - an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 in the ground war alone.

Nobody knows how many civilians died in the war, but estimates for civilian deaths as a direct result of the war range from 100,000 to 200,000.

Heaps of Iraqi corpses were buried in mass graves in the desert.

On 2 March the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution establishing the terms of the ceasefire.

These required Iraq to end all military action, to rescind its annexation of Kuwait and declare any stored chemical and biological weapons.


A wave of dissent then swept parts of Iraq, with uprisings breaking out in Basra, Najaf and Karbala in the south and among Iraqi Kurds in the north.

But Iraqi forces bombed and shelled protesters using military helicopters that they had been allowed to continue flying. According to the US, between 30,000 and 60,000 people were killed.

Kurdish refugees who fled after the uprising was put down
Some 1.5 million Kurds fled across the mountains

In the north, 1.5 million Kurds fled across the mountains into Iran and Turkey.

As the harsh conditions created a humanitarian catastrophe, the UN launched Operation Provide Comfort, air-dropping aid supplies to the refugees.

The military campaign had been successful in forcing Saddam Hussein's withdrawal from Kuwait, but the Iraqi leader remained in power.

A UN mandate for weapons inspections was established in a resolution passed in April 1991.

The first operation by the inspections body, Unscom, was carried out in June, setting in train seven years of monitoring.

Economic sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait remained in place, with Iraq banned from importing or exporting anything but food and medicines.

These continued for 12 years, although Iraq agreed in 1996 to a UN offer to allow it to export a limited amount of oil to raise funds for humanitarian supplies.

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