The Highway of Death

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Twenty five years ago, one of the most brutal massacres in war history occurred in Iraq, along Highway 80, about 32 km west of Kuwait city. On the night of February 26–27, 1991, thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians were retreating to Baghdad, after a ceasefire was announced, when President George Bush ordered his forces to slaughter the retreating Iraqi army. Fighter planes of the coalition forces swooped down upon the unarmed convoy and disabled the vehicles in the front, and at the rear, so that they couldn’t escape. Then wave after wave of aircraft pounded the trapped vehicles for hours on end. After the carnage was over, some 2,000 mangled Iraqi vehicles, and charred and dismembered bodies of tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers lay for miles along what came to be known as the “Highway of Death”. Several hundred more littered along another road, Highway 8, that leads to Basra. The scenes of devastation on these two roads became some of the most recognizable images of the Gulf War.

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Photo credit: www.informationclearinghouse.info

The day before, Baghdad had radio announced that Iraq's Foreign Minister had accepted the Soviet ceasefire proposal and had ordered all Iraqi troops to withdraw from Kuwait in compliance with UN Resolution 660. President Bush, however, had refused to believe it and had responded that "there was no evidence to suggest the Iraqi army is withdrawing. In fact, Iraqi units are continuing to fight. . . We continue to prosecute the war."

The next day, the Iraqi President had himself announced over the radio that the withdraw had indeed begun on two highways and would be completed that day, to which Bush had reacted calling Hussein's announcement "an outrage" and "a cruel hoax."

Rather than accept the offer of Iraq to surrender and leave the field of battle, thereby risking a settlement that might not be favorable to the United States, Bush and the U.S. military strategists decided simply to kill as many Iraqis as they possibly could.

The bombing started near midnight. At first US and Canadian jets bombed the front and rear ends of the convoy to prevent it from moving forward or back, then attacked the trapped convoy by repeated bombing. The Commander-in-Chief of the United States Central Command had received instruction from Bush administration to "not to let anybody or anything out of Kuwait City." Consequently, any vehicle that diverted off of the highway was tracked, hunted and destroyed individually. Even disarmed Iraqi soldiers who surrendered were mowed down by gunfire. Not one Iraqi survived.

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Demolished vehicles line Highway 80, on 18 April, 1991. Photo credit: TECH. SGT. JOE COLEMAN/Wikimedia

“The cabs of trucks were bombed so much that they were pushed into the ground, and it's impossible to see if they contain drivers or not. Windshields were melted away, and huge tanks were reduced to shrapnel,” wrote Lebanese-American journalist Joyce Chediac.

“The massacre of withdrawing Iraqi soldiers violates the Geneva Conventions of 1949, Common Article III, which outlaws the killing of soldiers who are out of combat,” wrote Joyce Chediac. “The Iraqi troops were not being driven out of Kuwait by U.S. troops as the Bush administration maintains. They were not retreating in order to regroup and fight again. In fact, they were withdrawing, they were going home.”

“To attack the soldiers returning home under these circumstances is a war crime,” Chediac added.

"Even in Vietnam I didn't see anything like this. It's pathetic," said Major Bob Nugent, an Army intelligence officer.

“The most disturbing aspect of the incident was the secrecy involved,” wrote Malcom Lagauche. “When Newsday broke the story, many were taken by surprise. According to members of the U.S. House and Senate Armed Forces Committees, the Pentagon had withheld details of the assault from the committees.”

The media was also given a different story. U.S. field commanders tried to portray that Iraqi forces were not voluntarily withdrawing but were being pushed from the battlefield.

Four years later, General Norman Schwarzkopf tried to justify what had happened on the Highway of Death:

“The first reason why we bombed the highway coming north out of Kuwait is because there was a great deal of military equipment on that highway, and I had given orders to all my commanders that I wanted every piece of Iraqi equipment that we possibly could destroy. Secondly, this was not a bunch of innocent people just trying to make their way back across the border to Iraq. This was a bunch of rapists, murderers and thugs who had raped and pillaged downtown Kuwait City and now were trying to get out of the country before they were caught.”

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Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Dean Wagner/Wikimedia

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Photo credit: o.canada.com

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Photo credit: o.canada.com

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Photo credit: o.canada.com

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The charred remains of an Iraqi soldier as he attempted to pull himself up over the dashboard of his truck. Photo credit: Kenneth Jarecke

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The burned-out truck, surrounded by corpses, on the “Highway of Death”. Photo credit: Kenneth Jarecke

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The sole of a shoe left behind while fleeing Kuwait along the Highway of Death, taken on February 28, 2003. Photo credit: Christiaan Briggs/Wikimedia

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Photo credit: PHC HOLMES, US Navy/Wikimedia

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Photo credit: PHC HOLMES, US Navy/Wikimedia

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38 comments:

  1. sad very sad :( this is "peaceful" American democracy

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    1. the U.S. military administered more peace to Kuwait than iraqs invasion forces provided.

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    2. Of course, because Kuwait, like the rest of Gulf is paying American - Zionists taxes, so they will be considered allies....Those Iraqi people were massacred....not only then, even now....2 million Iraqis dead....i havent seen any US politician prosecuted for that.

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  2. This is propaganda at its worst. There is NO truth in the article. The author REALLY needs to check his facts before publishing such a CRAP load of revisionist history. SHAME on this website for not vetting the stories!

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    1. I had a lot of experience with Iraqi's and you can pretty much call most of the men rapists and murder's but it might be the one's the come to the USA because nobody even in IRAQ wants them and this is why they migrate...looking for money after losses from where they came from because of course they have burnt their bridges....So there should not be a way for migrants to get into a country claiming refugee....It's been used and used and they lie for political asylum also. A Romanian guy working as a new car salesman confessed this to me in 1992 in Virginia when he sold me a car....What people generally do is find themselves rejected from where they came for whatever reason...generally gold digging opportunists and nobody was trapping or threatening them... shouldn't be allowed in the rules of the countries to move to some country with their lies when it goes along with their idea of taking and taking....Moving for selfish reasons happens but it's also because everybody keeps making babies and tries to turn any adults at hand into slave labor. Those kind of people that just make babies so easy have difficult to control children.

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  3. Not all reports and recollections of the "road of death" agree with your copy, above. You seem to have, based on review of several accounts, chosen by far the most unflattering version. Lazy? Or anti-US?

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    1. Which part of the story is incorrect? The facts reported here can be easily verified. The opinions are provided in quotes and attributed to the respective authors. Even the US-side of the story is presented through the opinion of one Army General at the end of the article.

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    2. Where to even begin with this mess:

      For starters, Iraq was given so many chances to withdraw and they just didn't. All the way through 1990 and up to Jan 15th, 1991. They purposefully chose to escalate the situation with missile launches and scorched earth policies against Kuwait infrastructure and civilians. They broke the deadline for withdraw, that means withdraw was no longer an option. Seems pretty simple to me at least.

      In no way, shape, or form does retreat equate to an "offer of surrender".

      These were not unarmed soldiers or in any way hors de combat (you even show pictures of bombed out APCs and tanks for Christ's sake).

      The ceasefire from the US forces was not called until Feb 28th, the day after this event.

      I don't understand how you can even attempt to argue Iraq was complying with UN Resolution 660 (adopted in August 1990 demanding the immediate withdraw of Iraqi forces).

      To put it simply, if Iraq wanted to surrender then they probably should have just surrendered. They didn't, this was the consequence. It's ugly, not really something to be proud of, but that's what war is.

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    3. @Kaushik Patowary,

      The cease fire started on the 28th, though the Republican Guards units were still shooting for 2 days more. The Highway of death air attacks were the night of the 26th. More than 24 hours before the cease fire.

      Note, there are not "charred and dismembered bodies of tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers". There are barely hundreds of dead.

      PS: To surrender, you drop your arms, more away from your vehicles with your hands up and wait to be searched. Driving up a road in an armed main battle tank does not constitute surrender, thus you are a target under all the laws of war.

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  4. I never heard about this before today!

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  5. Looks like Baghdad Bob found a new gig. :)

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    1. Thanks for bringing up the name,"Baghdad Bob". Who ever said war was never funny?

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  6. This is what needs to be done with radical Muslims.

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  7. Peaceful ?? Peaceful gets you a punch in the nose. Peaceful gets your friends and neighbors invaded and terrorized. Maybe you have a slanted view of this story. Maybe anti-American ? If so, stay off all roads after plundering. A Warthog may have you in its sight.

    Hey Amusing Planet ... Stay with pretty pictures and informational stories & stay away from political "stuff". You are not good at it and it just pisses people off. A few more times and I'm gone...............

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    1. I'll be right behind you Richard Gallo....I want trivia and amusement not politics.....after all it's called Amusing Planet....Not Political Planet.

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    2. It was not supposed to be political, just reporting of an incident that I believe not many people are aware of. I'm sorry if it's rubbing people the wrong way.

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  8. Not unarmed by a long shot, but definitely out gunned.

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  9. Ok, that's it for me. Amusing Planet has gone from being a rational independent site to a politically biased mess. I don't care what your opinions are, just share a simple story.

    BTW, by listing this, are you stating that it's "Amusing"??

    Advertisers, not the swift departure of many readers over this politically biased and charged drivel from the Amusing Planet "writer".

    Gone forever.

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    1. I agree 100%. I have left the site!

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  10. I was there. Your politically-charged description is both inaccurate and deliberately inflammatory. Bookmark deleted.

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    1. I'm with you Jar(Egg)Head...I wont be coming back here ever again!!

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  11. and who gave irakies so much weapon so they could attacked their neighbourn iran and then kuwait?

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    1. Judging by the plethora of Soviet/Russian military vehicles and other toys in those pics, I'd say:

      "Three guesses; second two don't count".

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  12. LOL...that was very amusing. I love how the author to a real historical fact and added so much made up nonsense. The funny thing is that given enough time this kind of BS will make it into main stream (read lazy) media and the dopey left will start to quote it as fact.

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  13. Dear Amusing Planet, I congratulate you on this piece - do not be upset or cowed by some of the comments. Its a human and constitutional right to express all views. And those with guilty consciences are most likely to shout the loudest against.
    This post is NOT anti-USA. It is anti-military industrial complex. GHW Bush was an oilman and banker - which somehow qualified him to be Director of the CIA? The blessing of the internet is we are now finally able to hear all views, not just bought-and-paid for propaganda.
    Dont be fearful or bullied by the shouters, there's always some. It is not political to be silent - it is political and complicit to stand silent and cooperate with the pretense that these things didnt happen.
    The American people and the world will be safer when truth is known everywhere.

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    1. A typical cry-baby argument from the party of hate. They ruin all enjoyment by making it political. But I digress, I should know better - you can't argue with a sick mind.

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  14. I don't know if this is truly represented or not, but I am glad to know about it so that I can learn more.

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  15. The photos above are proof that the Iraqi forces were not retreating. The universal sign for a tank being out of combat is to have its turret turned to the rear. All those pictures above show the Iraqi tanks had their turrets facing forward in a combat position. That makes the US attack justifiable under military law and not a war crime.

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  16. What is not said in the article above is that the Geneva Conventions protects soldiers who have abandoned their weapons. The pictures above show that their weapons were not abandoned. All they had to do was turn around and start shooting again. People in that position are NOT protected as was stated above.

    The above article is mis-information at best. Propaganda at worst.

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  17. Well, what used to be an interesting website has now gone full on political. The article itself is mostly inaccurate and that can be confirmed by about 20 minutes of research. I guess Soros had his checkbook out again. It's a shame really.

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  18. Total rubbish. First, you have combined two actions one on Highway 8 and the other on Highway 80. Second, fighting continued into March despite the so-called ceasefire, e.g., the Battle of Rumailiah. These troops were redeploying and were legitimate targets. The casualty figures provided have not been substantiated. Nice try.

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  19. Really it's very very sad .

    Wars are not left only destruction and devastation .

    I hope that peace prevails in the world .

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  20. "The burned-out truck, surrounded by corpses, on the “Highway of Death”."

    A picture captioned above. I see ONE corpse not plural as stated. Let's call a spade a spade and know this for what it is. It's a half baked attempt to cause outrage over an incident that occurred 20 plus years ago. The author wasn't there during this incident and the claims made in this article cannot be verified as actually happening outside of General Schwarzkopf's statement. That statement is typical in that the goal was to deny the Iraqi's the ability to restart a conflict by depriving them of their ability to wage war. It's standard military procedure to deny your enemy the ability to wage war. You can find classic examples of this happening in every conflict ever recorded throughout history.

    The author of this piece of garbage should have done a better job of researching his topic before writing such drivel. His knowledge of this subject is sorely lacking.

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  21. A lot of readers have been offended by this article. I'm accused of writing a “politically charged” and “deliberately inflammatory” article. Let me assure you, I have no political agenda. This is the version I got when I Googled “highway of death”. This article is based on mainly these sources (link1, link2, link3, link4) all of which appears on the first page of Google’s search results. I wasn’t cherry picking on the “bad articles” and leaving the truth behind.

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    1. So where's the pics of "thousands of bodies?" Lots and lots of hardware in your images, but not a lot of meat. I've seen charred bodies, I know what they look like. But in all of your images, I can see only ONE. Apparently he was the one idiot (and there's always one) who didn't run when everyone else did. Your other snuff photo shows one guy on an empty road with a Blackhawk overhead, so it calls into question whether or not that photo actually shows what you claim it shows. Never mind the large number of vehicles in your images that are simply abandoned with no damage at all. And how about all the video footage of Iraqis un-assing their convoys while coalition aircraft orbit overhead without actually bombing them?

      And even if what you say was true (which it isn't), they were neither unarmed nor surrendering nor protected by a cease-fire. The cease-fire wouldn't be declared until the following day, so it was still very much a shooting war. And as somebody else pointed out above, it's pretty laughable to describe tanks with full combat loads (evident by how they blew up so nicely when hit) as "unarmed." They made no effort to mark any of their vehicles as surrendered (there's actually proper ways to do that), and there's also the rather inconvenient fact that the Iraqi military used the "fake surrender" ruse to ambush US forces on several occasions (and still got their asses kicked in those engagements). And the Iraqis violated the cease-fire several times, including an incident where a Republican Guard division attacked elements of the US 24th Infantry Division four days after the cease-fire. 24th ID crushed them.

      Nearly all of those vehicles had been abandoned by the time they were hit. It wasn't a slaughter, it was simply destroying the enemy's equipment. Wars are fought by killing people and breaking their shit. In this case, US and coalition forces hardly killed anybody, but broke pretty much all of their shit.

      This is not unlike the media flip-flop that happened at the time. Prior to the actual start of Desert Storm, the media wailed about how the "battle-hardened" Iraqi army, "4th-largest in the world," "equipped by the Americans" (but strangely having nothing but Soviet guns, Soviet gear, Soviet vehicles, and French planes) would turn it into a bloodbath with tens of thousands of US and allied casualties. When Schwarzkopf mopped the floor with Saddam's elite, suddenly they had "always said" that Iraq had a pathetic force of unwilling conscripts. This story of yours is nothing new. It was trotted out and quickly debunked within hours of the actual event. You're just beating a dead unicorn here. Either you're a crappy journalist who didn't perform due diligence in fully researching your story, or you're a liar.

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    2. Perhaps your sources were your problem. I took the time to look at your links and, with one exception, they are all what would be considered anti-American sites. Two of which, and the exception too, don't source any of their information. Incidentally, as has already been pointed out, your implication that this happened after the ceasefire was called is either wrong (the US didn't declare ceasefire until the 28th) or deceptive (the USSR couldn't order a ceasefire between the Iraqis and the US). I hope you can understand why you are being lambasted by the people who read your article, especially by those who are American veterans who may have been there, or served at the time.

      Kal

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    3. From Wikipedia:

      "Photojournalist Peter Turnley published photographs of mass burials at the scene. Turnley wrote:

      "I flew from my home in Paris to Riyadh when the ground war began and arrived at the “mile of death” very early in the morning on the day the war stopped. Few other journalists were there when I arrived at this incredible scene, with carnage that was strewn all over. On this mile stretch were cars and trucks with wheels still turning and radios still playing. Bodies were scattered along the road. Many have asked how many people died during the war with Iraq, and the question has never been well answered. That first morning, I saw and photographed a U.S. military “graves detail” burying many bodies in large graves. I don't recall seeing many television images of these human consequences. Nor do I remember many photographs of these casualties being published."

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    4. From Wikipedia again:

      Time magazine commented:

      "The pictures were among the most stunning to come out of the gulf war: mile after mile of burned, smashed, shattered vehicles of every description—tanks, armored cars, trucks, autos, even stolen Kuwaiti fire trucks—littering the highway from Kuwait City to Basra. To some Americans, the pictures were also sickening. (...) After the war, correspondents did find some cars and trucks with burned bodies, but also many vehicles that had been abandoned. Their occupants had fled on foot, and the American planes often did not fire at them. That some Kuwaiti civilians who had been kidnapped by the fleeing Iraqis probably also perished on what became the highway of death is a true tragedy. Which proves once more that even in an era of precision weapons, war is hell; it can be civilized to some extent by rules of conduct, but the most humane thing to do is to end it as quickly as possible."

      Also from Wikipedia:

      The death toll from the attack remains unknown and controversial. British journalist Robert Fisk said he "lost count of the Iraqi corpses crammed into the smouldering wreckage or slumped face down in the sand" at the main site and to see hundreds of corpses strewn up the road all the way to the Iraqi border. American journalist Bob Drogin reported seeing "scores" of dead soldiers "in and around the vehicles, mangled and bloated in the drifting desert sands." Some independent estimates go as high as 10,000 or more casualties (even "tens of thousands"),[citation needed] but this is a highly unlikely number.[citation needed] A 2003 study by the Project on Defense Alternatives (PDA) estimated fewer than 10,000 people rode in the cut-off main caravan; and when the bombing started most simply left their vehicles to escape through the desert or into the nearby swamps where some died from their wounds and some were later taken prisoner. According to PDA, the often repeated low estimate of the numbers killed in the attack is 200–300 reported by journalist Michael Kelly (who personally counted 37 bodies), but a minimum death toll of at least 500–600 seems more plausible.

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