Published on Wednesday, March 17, 2004 by Agence France Presse
Massive Explosion Devastates Baghdad Neighborhood
BAGHDAD -- At least 25 people were killed and 45 wounded in a powerful explosion that ripped central Baghdad, US Lieutenant Colonel Peter Jones told reporters, almost a year after US forces invaded Iraq.
Flames swallowed buildings, smoke billowed into the sky as red light bathed the heaps of rubble and twisted metal where relatives screamed and dug for loved ones in the capital's Karrada neighborhood.
The blast, thought to be either from a car bomb or a rocket, came as Iraq's interim Governing Council announced it was asking the United Nations to play a role in the war-battered country's transition to sovereignty and ahead of Saturday's anniversary of the US-led invasion.
Firemen battled the raging flames and young men pulled bodies from the rubble in the crowded neighborhood near a hospital and the Jabal Lubnan (Mount Lebanon) hotel, popular with Westerners.
Shocked residents wailed "Ya Allah (Oh, God), Ya Allah!"
As people panicked amid the flickering flames, a US military officer blurted: "We think it's a car bomb."
The explosion gouged a giant crater in the ground.
As soldiers rushed to rescue victims trapped in the rubble, furious Iraqis shouted at them to leave.
The explosion targeted a neighborhood famous for its diverse mix of Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis and Christians, where Iraq's ethnic groups demonstrate daily that they can live in harmony amid the country's fears of sectarian conflict.
At Ibn Nafiz hospital, an AFP correspondent saw one corpse and a hospital spokesman said two others were killed, while dozens were wounded.
A fourth was reported dead at Al-Wasit hospital.
"Everyone is buried there," said one man, bandaged at Ibn Nafiz hospital.
"I saw people lying on the ground. My uncles was lightly wounded and I am looking for people in the hospital," said Mohammed Bassem.
Looking to defeat the insurgents, the US army had kicked off Operation Iron Promise Wednesday morning in Baghdad, arresting insurgents and seizing weapons, but the colossal military power failed to prevent the latest catastrophe.
The 1st Armoured Division said it had launched the offensive to round up the foreign fighters and Islamic extremists who have unleashed a wave of car and suicide bombings that have killed around 400 people since the start of February.
"We will remain on the offensive against extremists, former regime members, terrorists and criminals who are operating against the Iraqi people, the Iraqi Government in Baghdad and Coalition Forces," 1st Armoured Division Major General Martin Dempsey said, announcing the operation.
Earlier, the US-appointed Governing Council said it was sending a letter to ask the UN to assist in the political process with the scheduled end of the US-led occupation barely three months away.
In a nod toward acknowledging the instability, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cautioned that the June 30 power transfer date was not fixed in stone.
"Well, will it happen, for sure? Who knows. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow," Rumsfeld said in an interview with the BBC.
Coalition officials believe alleged Al-Qaeda operative Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi is plotting spectacular attacks around Iraq, hoping to spark a civil war among Iraq's Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians.
© Copyright 2004 AFP