A chain of explosions at an arms dump near Baghdad has left many people dead and injured. There is still confusion over casualties, with figures of those killed ranging from six to as high as 40.

 

The incident began early in the morning when loud explosions were heard coming from the outskirts of the capital. They went on for at least an hour.

 

The source of explosions is
still unclear

US soldiers stationed in the city centre initially said that the blasts were controlled detonations at an arms dump. Later, a US military spokesman claimed that attackers fired flares into the arms dump, setting off the explosions that caused the civilian casualties."

 

Hostile forces fired four flares into an ammunition storage area. One of the flares ignited an explosion and that set off a chain of explosions," Captain Patrick Sullivan told Reuters at the scene at Zaafaraniya, on the outskirts of the capital.

 

Al Jazeera correspondent Maher Abdullah quoted unconfirmed eyewitness reports saying that "the cause of the explosion is not a missile attack," but rather US soldiers negligently collecting confiscated Iraqi ammunition.

 

According to the eyewitnesses, "US forces were trying to destroy a weapons cache when some missiles went out of control and exploded, triggering off a series of loud explosions.

 

"This would explain the anger felt by the residents who blame the US for storing the confiscated ammunition near their homes."

 

Anti-US protests

 

Locals have been digging out bodies and demonstrating against the US presence in the aftermath of the blasts. Shooting, directed against US soldiers, has forced them back from the scene.

 

Anti-US protests have gripped
Iraq in recent days

An enraged man at the scene vented his fury at the US forces who took the capital two weeks ago: "Why, why?...The war is finished. A baby, a woman, 14 under this building," he screamed in English.

 

"May God exact his revenge," added a woman, whose head was bandaged. She was seated next to a young girl whose dress was soaked in blood from a head injury. The girl's leg was being bandaged by a soldier.

 

About 500 Iraqi men, chanting anti-American, pro-Islam slogans, drove in a convoy of trucks, buses and cars out of the suburb - the first truck carrying six coffins, apparently containing bodies.

 

"No Americans or Saddam; Yes, Yes to Islam!" the men chanted in Arabic, some of them flying green Islamic flags and banners. Among the slogans were two in English: "Stop Explosions Near Civilians" and "The Terror After War".

 

Casualties

 

Al Jazeera's Abdullah says that "no accurate number of casualties is available yet but a doctor on board an ambulance told us there are 16 dead.

 

"Baghdad now is full of rumours. It is not possible for the time being to give an accurate number of casualties but reports say that a number of houses were destroyed, 40 people have been killed, and a great number injured."

 

"As for US claims that they had warned the inhabitants of the area to evacuate their houses before they perform the destruction of the confiscated ammunition, no one has confirmed this for us. On the contrary, people told us that they protested against the performing of such operations near their homes, but were ignored."