Fatal arms dump blasts near Baghdad
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|Sat, 04-26-2003 - 1:57pm|
MSNBC News Services
A series of huge blasts at an arms dump on the outskirts of Baghdad Saturday killed and wounded at least six people, with some estimates as high as 40 people. The U.S. military said unidentified attackers fired a device into the munitions store causing the chain of explosions. Soon afterward, dozens of Iraqis angered by the explosions held a large anti-American demonstration near a city center hotel.
U.S. FORCES SAID troops guarding the arms dump came under attack Saturday morning and that a device the attackers fired caused the initial explosion, which in turn caused several subsequent blasts. At least six civilians were killed, and four injured, the U.S. military said. One American soldier suffered a broken arm.
Iraqi witnesses said they believed many more had been killed. One Iraqi medic said as many as 40 had died and hospital officials put the number of injured at 25.
"An unknown number of individuals attacked. ... One soldier was wounded in the attack. During the attack, the assailant fired an unknown incendiary device into the cache, causing it to catch fire and explode. The explosion caused the destruction of the cache as well as a nearby building," Central Command said in a statement issued in Qatar.
Col. John Peabody, commanding officer of U.S. Army's 11th Engineering Brigade, said the site held 80 missiles, including Iraq's al-Samud IIs and others made in Russia.
Lt. Mark Kitchens, a spokesman for Central Command in Qatar, said U.S. officers deplored the attack. "This is a despicable act committed by individuals interested in continuing Saddam Hussein's traditions of terror and brutality," he said.
"This is not just an attempt to disrupt the process of peace, it's a crime against the Iraqi people," Kitchens said.
U.S. officers at the scene rejected allegations from local residents that U.S. forces had brought more munitions to the site from elsewhere in Iraq and also denied that they had been destroying ammunition at the site in controlled detonations.
Experts had certified it was "stored in a safe manner. Were it not for the fact that it was attacked, we would not have any casualties whatsoever," Peabody said.
DEVASTATION BLAMED ON THE AMERICANS
Local people blamed the devastation on the Americans, shooting at soldiers trying to treat the injured and recover bodies from the rubble, driving American forces from the area.
"It's too dangerous for my soldiers to be there right now," U.S. Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Coker said.
Scores of Iraqis angered by the explosions held an anti-American demonstration near the Palestine hotel, which is the base for much of the international media.
"No to America, No to Saddam; Yes, Yes for an Islamic state," they chanted, led by a Muslim cleric with a megaphone.
"We die and Islam lives," ran another chant.
U.S. troops around the Palestine Hotel looked on.
Earlier, hundreds of men from the Zafaraniyah suburb drove out in trucks and buses chanting anti-U.S. slogans and bearing six coffins, apparently containing the bodies of some of the dead from the explosions, which wrecked homes in the district.
At one point, the coffins were brought to the victims' home, where crowds shouted anti-U.S. slogans and women ululated. When the coffins were carried out for burials, women collapsed on them.
The smell of sewage permeated the air after sewer lines broke. A deep crater in the road filled up with the dirty water.
Among banners in the crowd one, in English, read: "No Bombs Between Houses." In Arabic beneath was written: "Yes, Yes to Freedom." Another banner, in Islamic green, read in Arabic: "U.S. forces kill innocents with Saddam's weapons."
Many Iraqis have welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by the U.S.-led invasion but, two weeks after Baghdad fell to U.S. forces, many are voicing their impatience with the U.S. presence and say they want to run their own country.
ROCKETS RAINED DOWN ON HOMES
Residents of the Zafaraniyah neighborhood in southwest Baghdad said homes were wrecked as rockets from the dump rained down, burying people under rubble. A Reuters photographer saw many wounded, some with severed limbs.
Desperate neighbors shaken from their beds or interrupted having breakfast dug frantically in the rubble of homes, looking for survivors amid the mud and shattered concrete.
Residents said the victims were all members of the same family, including a 50-year-old man, his four teenage children and his 23-year-old daughter-in-law.
Early reports that babies were among the victims appeared to be unfounded.
Ammunition at the dump was still exploding Saturday afternoon, setting off large blasts, whistling rockets and rounds going off from the heat.
A highway outside the dump was littered for hundreds of yards with grenades, shrapnel, bullets and rocket mortars.
Five people were admitted to the Zafaraniyah General Hospital in serious condition, said Dr. Mohammed Abdel Rahman Mahmood. About 20 others were treated at the hospital for minor injuries and released, hospital officials said.
The U.S. military said the wounded American was hurt in the initial attack on the depot, not the subsequent explosions. The soldier suffered a broken arm, said Col. John Peabody, commanding officer of U.S. Army's 11th Engineering Brigade
His name was being withheld pending notification of relatives.
Hundreds of people in private vehicles evacuated the neighborhood at the request of U.S. soldiers. Many chanted angrily and shook their fists at the American troops.
"This is the responsibility of the U.S. Army because we told them this is a civilian area," one man said from a beat-up white car. In one truck, people chanted, "America's no better than Saddam."
The incident underlined how far Baghdad is from being pacified 17 days after U.S. troops took the city.
The explosions came after aides said President Bushwould declarean end to hostilities next week and hail the success of U.S.-led combat operations.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.