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1991: US bombers strike civilians in Baghdad

Hundreds of Iraqi civilians have been killed and wounded in Baghdad by American bombers.

Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz said: "This was a criminal, pre-meditated, planned attack against civilians."

Local reports say two laser-guided precision bombs hit an air-raid shelter in the middle class district of Amiriya, five miles from the centre of the Iraqi capital.

So far 235 bodies have been recovered, 12 hours after the attacks at 0445 GMT and 0450 GMT.

Continuing fires and intense heat in the bunker complex - which includes a school, mosque and supermarket - have hampered rescue efforts and 300 people are still thought to be trapped inside.

Many of the victims are thought to be women and children.

"Saddam Hussein does not share our sanctity for human life"

Martin Fitzwater, White House spokesperson

White House spokesperson Martin Fitzwater said the loss of civilian life was "truly tragic", but described the bunker as a well-known military target.

"We don't know why civilians were at this location. We do know that Saddam Hussein does not share our sanctity for human life," he continued.

One American intelligence officer said the bunker had been transmitting military signals until the moment the bombs hit.

Another US spokesperson in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, suggested Saddam had deliberately created a human shield - a tactic he has used before - to inflame international opinion against allied air strikes.

The Baghdad shelter manager said: We didn't have a single military man in the shelter. It is allocated to civilians."

According to intelligence sources the shelter was built during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s with a 10 to 15-foot thick concrete ceiling, reinforced with steel, designed to withstand electro-magnetic pulses from a thermo-nuclear blast.

Both sides are investigating the incident - caught on camera by US planes.

Tariq Aziz has called on the UN - meeting tonight - to condemn the "hideous crime". A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar expressed dismay at such a large loss of civilian life.

In Context
The final death toll was 314 including 130 children, after one of the 900kg bombs exploded in the middle of the largest upstairs room and the other blew up and blocked a ventilation shaft.

The incident was widely reported by the western media and brought the horror of modern, hi-technology warfare into people's homes across the world.

The row over whether the bunker had been a military installation was never properly settled.

Ten days later the allied ground attack against Iraq's occupation of Kuwait began.

Within three days Iraqi troops began to withdraw and Kuwait was liberated on 27 February 1991.

In March 2003, the United States led a new coalition force in a war against Iraq which succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein's regime.

The former Iraqi leader was captured after several months in hiding in December 2003. He was tried by an Iraqi court which sentenced him to death. He was executed on 30 December 2006.

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