- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2003

BAGHDAD Massive blasts at an ammunition dump guarded by U.S. forces killed at least six Iraqi civilians yesterday, injured 50 or more and sent hundreds of Iraqis into the streets venting rage at the Americans for storing explosives in a residential area.
The U.S. military said unknown attackers fired four flares into the sprawling, open missile dump shortly before 8 a.m., local time, setting alight a vast pile of ordnance in a chain of explosions that shook the area.
One U.S. soldier was injured, suffering a concussion and broken leg, coalition officials said.
But some residents said U.S. troops had packed cars with confiscated weapons and detonated them at the site.
Also yesterday, the Army's 4th Infantry Division seized an airfield and stash of missiles in the northeastern Iraqi city of Baqubah near the Iranian border, detaining 40 Iraqis suspected of hiding weapons.
The series of blasts in Zafaraniyah in southern Baghdad sent rockets raining down on the nearby residential area, flattening a house and burying residents in the rubble. A half-dozen homes were demolished and sewer lines were broken.
In one house, the impact killed a 50-year-old worker, his four teen-age children and his 23-year-old daughter-in-law, a new mother.
"Our house collapsed. That's all I remember," Mohammed Khazaal, 15, said from a hospital bed, his head wrapped in bandages and gashes across his body. A brother of the dead young woman, he had been sleeping when the missile hit.
"This is the safety that Bush promised us?" demanded Munthir Safir, the blood of his family dried on the cloth of his white caftan. Around him, wailing women collapsed over coffins.
The explosions and civilian damage triggered protests in central Baghdad, where suspicion and resentment of the U.S.-led coalition has lingered below the surface since soldiers took the city two weeks ago.
The blasts sent rockets and other munitions sailing for more than a mile into nearby neighborhoods, said an unidentified engineer with the 3rd Infantry Division, which controls central Iraq. The deadly, booming fireworks display resonated throughout the city of 5 million.
U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar, issued a statement saying the assailant or assailants "fired an unknown incendiary device into the cache, causing it to catch fire and explode." It said soldiers of the 3rd Infantry came under attack as they guarded the cache.
The Rashid military facility, southwest of Baghdad, apparently was used as an ammunition dump by the Iraqi military. When coalition forces took over, they used the site to store rocket-propelled grenades, other grenades, mortars, rifles, ammunition and machine guns they have collected since arriving earlier in April.
Col. John Peabody, commander of the Army's 11th Engineering Brigade, told the Associated Press that the cache included 80 missiles Russian-made Frog-7s and Iraq's own Al Samoud 2.
Coalition officials said that after the initial blast, the pile began to "cook off," as more munitions buried deeper ignited.
"Our goal was to police it all up, truck it to safety and hold it for the next government," an engineer with the 3rd Infantry said.
If not for the attack, he said, the Rashid dump would not have posed a threat. Officials in Baghdad last night could not say how the intruders entered the facility.
Families in the neighborhood told AP that they had gone to American officers repeatedly to ask them to stop controlled explosions conducted at the dump in recent days. U.S. forces stopped night explosions after those requests and ended daytime blasts three or four days ago, residents said.
Unexploded ordnance pose a continuous threat to coalition troops, who have found weapons caches all over Iraq. U.S. officials say soldiers for weeks have been stumbling over grenades, mines, rifles and ammunition hidden in the Baghdad Zoo, in stores and homes, in mosques and ambulances, and along rivers, bridges and railroad tracks.
"We've been finding this stuff everywhere, everywhere, everywhere," one soldier said. "We took in 2,000 pistols [to give to] the police department."
He said that psychological operations teams have tried to warn Iraqis not to touch the munitions, and to report them to coalition troops for removal.
The deaths and protests occurred as Jay Garner, the retired U.S. general leading an interim administration in Iraq, prepared for another meeting with Iraqi political groups in Baghdad tomorrow to discuss the country's future. The meeting follows initial talks two weeks ago near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.
The Pentagon is sending teams of Iraqi exiles to Baghdad who have professional experience suited to rebuilding government ministries such as oil, public health, industry and transportation. Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense, assembled the teams.
The Rashid explosion is sure to accelerate the impatience and frustration many Iraqis feel with the United States, which many blame for not quickly stopping looting of the Iraqi National Museum and thousands of homes and stores. About 500 men, chanting anti-American, pro-Islamic slogans, drove out of Zafaraniyah in a convoy of trucks, buses and cars. One truck carried six coffins.
Two banners in English read: "Stop Explosions Near Civilians" and "The Terror After War."
Later, scores of men gathered in a central Baghdad square to protest the U.S. military presence, waving their fists and chanting: "Yes, yes to Islam. Yes, yes to Iraq." Muslim clerics with megaphones egged the crowd on.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide