Iraqi civilians killed in Baghdad blasts

Attackers fire flare at ammunition dump

At least 6 dead, 4 wounded

Postwar Iraq

April 27, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - At least six Iraqi civilians were killed on the outskirts of Baghdad yesterday when explosions ripped through an ammunition dump guarded by U.S. troops in their neighborhood. Military officials said a group of attackers had fired a flare into the cache, setting off the blasts.

A statement from the U.S. Central Command said six Iraqis had been killed and four wounded. But a military official in Baghdad said the toll could be as high as 40 people killed or wounded in the attack.

An official at the scene said that the flare set off a Soviet-made Frog battlefield rocket that was part of the Iraqi arsenal and that it resulted in the explosion that caused most of the casualties.

The military, concerned about the reaction from the Iraqi public, began radio broadcasts last night saying that the attack had been by people trying to undermine Iraq's future, and that Americans had been trying to help Iraqis by collecting arms from around the city and adding them to the cache.

Officials said they were investigating the case and that the exact circumstances of what happened remained unclear. There was no definitive report of who was responsible for the explosion.

As some of soldiers from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division tried to provide medical assistance immediately after the explosions, they were fired on by angry residents, officials said. A U.S. official said that one reason there were few details about the number of casualties was because soldiers withdrew after the angry reaction by residents.

Shouts of "Down with America" rang through the neighborhood, called Zafaraniya, and a truck drove through the streets with six coffins, apparently for the dead.

One hospital said it had received 20 patients who were wounded in the blast. One U.S. soldier was wounded in the attack, Central Command said.

At the ammunition dump, Sgt. Maj. Gary Coker said that both U.S. and Iraqi ammunition was stored over several acres of ground protected by a high wall.

As the extent of the casualties became clear, residents said they were incensed that U.S. soldiers continued to add to the dump, which the government of Saddam Hussein had put so close to their neighborhood.

In a news release, the U.S. Central Command said the location of the cache "near a civilian population is another example of the former regime's disregard for the safety of Iraqi citizens."

In the statement, the Central Command said, "An unknown number of individuals attacked U.S. 3rd Infantry Division soldiers who were guarding a cache of captured Iraqi ammunition near Baghdad this morning.

"During the attack, the assailant fired an unknown incendiary device into the cache, causing it to catch fire and explode," the statement said. "The explosion caused the destruction of the cache as well as a nearby building."

The attack came as U.S. officials announced that they had been making steady progress in restoring basic services to Baghdad.

Maj. Gen. Carl Strock of the Army Corps of Engineers said at a news conference that electricity had been restored to about 50 percent of the city and that about 65 percent now had running water. Power had been returned to many hospitals, he said.

But the general, who is the chief engineering adviser to the U.S. interim administration that is trying to get started here, said it would be another two weeks before power would be restored to the entire city.

To many residents, the shortage of electricity seems more drastic than the general described. In some areas, the power has come back on, but only erratically. For example, one neighborhood had two hours of power on Friday; another had none.

Strock acknowledged the help of two senior Iraqi engineers, Dr. Karim Hassan, and Hassan al-Aweidi, who appeared at the news conference with him, as well as workers who had come back to help without pay. Volunteers who had returned to work would be given a $20 "emergency pay" in the next few days, he said.

The city telephone service is still out of order, and the general said he could give no estimate when it would be working again. A few random neighborhoods, such as Hay al Shurta and Hay Aljamya in western Baghdad, can call each other, apparently because their lines were not affected during the war, he said.

The inability of city residents to use their phones is proving one of the many frustrating aspects of what appears to people here as a very slow American-led return to normality.

"People are very upset being without electricity," said Thaier Aldami, a store owner. "It encourages looters, and it is something the government is supposed to provide."

In the effort to show that the United States was trying to take the initiative, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, Jay Garner, a retired general, visited the Health Ministry yesterday, the first of a series of meetings he said he would conduct with civil servants at their workplaces.

The ministry building, unlike some others that have been burned by looters, is still usable, but most of the essentials of work have been stolen. There are no computers, virtually no files and the telephones, like those elsewhere in the city, do not work.

Officials at the Iraqi Health Ministry, particularly those who run the programs for vaccinations and maternal and child care, have been praised by a senior U.S. public health specialist, Dr. Frederick Burkle, as being very competent.

Iraqi officials told Garner yesterday that they could resume their work themselves and did not need Western nongovernmental organizations and charities who are arriving here to help. They said they did not want Western overseers or helpers, and insisted they were self-sufficient.

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