The huge blasts took place Monday evening, eyewitness Faras Mustafa told AFP. Plumes of smoke rose from the base, located in a region considered a stronghold of sympathisers of former President Saddam Hussein.

 

The base has come under repeated mortar attack over the past few nights, occupation forces' spokesman Colonel Guy Shields told reporters earlier. There was no immediate comment from the US army.

 

Security in Iraq has yet to be restored despite US President George W. Bush's claim on 1 May that major fighting was over.

 

Fuel prices

 

High fuel prices, an intermittent supply of safe drinking water, poor medical services and a lack of jobs are fanning anti-US and British sentiment in the war-torn country.

 

Meanwhile in the southern town of Basra, some measure of peace prevailed after two days of anti-occupation rioting claimed the lives at least two Iraqis and a British soldier.

 

Armoured vehicles patrolled the streets and troops wore protective body armour. They were prepared to deal with any civil disturbance, an unidentified military spokesman said.

 

“It's all calmed down,” Major Charlie Mayo, military spokesman in the British-administered city told AFP.

 

“We're working with the Iraqis to put the power lines back up and we're assisting the coalition authority in providing fuel to all the fuel stations,” he added.

 

Wake-up call

 

The riots served as a wake-up call for the occupying powers, highlighting the need to expedite the rebuilding of Iraq.

 

One grievance of the rioters in Basra was that many were forced to pay black market prices for fuel. Iraq sits on the world’s second largest oil reserves.

 

In the north, as the US military sought to crush opposition, a soldier was killed and two others were wounded after a grenade was tossed at a  police station they were guarding late Sunday.

 

The attack happened at Baquba, 66 kilometres northeast of Baghdad.

 

At least 57 US soldiers have now been killed in resistance attacks in Iraq, while a further 60 have died in non-combat incidents.