30 years ago today, an overeager U.S. Navy captain illegally shot down an Iranian passenger plane, killed 290 civilians, and was awarded for his service.
On July 3, 1988, the United States killed 290 innocent Iranian civilians when it shot down Iran Air Flight 655—a tragic event that is not mentioned in history textbooks in school, and that is widely ignored in the context of current relations between the U.S. and Iran.
The scheduled flight was traveling from Tehran to Dubai, and there were 66 children on board, all of whom were killed, as no passengers or crew members survived the attack. The plane was shot down by the USS Vincennes, which was operating within Iranian territorial waters. It targeted the large Airbus A300 and then insisted that crew members mistook it for an F-14 fighter jet, despite the obvious difference in size.
At the time, Iraq and Iran were engaged in a bitter war that was declared by Saddam Hussein on Sept. 22, 1980. The United States’ support for Iraq in the conflict is notable because it would later go on to overthrow Hussein in 2003.
The Iraq-Iran War was horrific, and in the eight years that it lasted, estimates claim that “at the very least half a million and possibly twice as many troops were killed on both sides, at least half a million became permanent invalids.” The cost of the war was around $228 billion and it resulted in more than $400 billion in damage.
The United States’ involvement stemmed from its support for Iraq, at a time when the Reagan Administration considered Iran to be a bitter enemy, and so it instead chose to support Hussein, in order to influence the conflict. As reports have noted, the U.S. used Iraq as “its surrogate for policy in the Persian Gulf region,” as it prevented the United Nations from imposing economic sanctions on Iraq, and defended the use of chemical weapons on Iranian civilians.