Baghdad Blast Sparks Anti-U.S. Fervor

Nura Begovic, 58, watches the broadcast of Radovan Karadzic's war crimes trial, in front of wall covered with photos of victims of the Srebrenica massacre, at Union of Srebrenica Women, in Tuzla, 72 kms north of Sarajevo, Bosnia, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009.
AP Photo/Amel Emric
A U.S.-held weapons cache laden with 80 Iraqi missiles exploded Saturday on the teeming edge of Baghdad, killing six people and pummeling homes for miles around with a cascade of warheads, rockets and mortars. CBS News Reporter Charles D'Agata says it's feared there are bodies buried in the rubble.

CBS News Correspondent Thalia Assuras, who is also in the capital, says the explosions not only rocked an Iraqi suburb, they "severely damaged an already strained peace."

The U.S. military blamed unknown attackers who it said fired four flares into the sprawling open missile dump. But hundreds of enraged, screaming Iraqis blamed Iraq's new American overseers, saying they repeatedly warned the military about keeping the dump near a populated area.

"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 the coffins of two adults and four teenagers. "No Saddam! No Bush! Yes to Islam!" fist-waving men shouted. The disaster touched off protests in the stricken Zafaraniyah neighborhood and in the city center.

Hours later, smoke still surged from the blackened crater left at the missile cache. Explosives boomed, a rocket whistled and rounds popped. One unexploded missile protruded from a lawn. U.S. forces promised to send removal experts.

One American soldier suffered a broken arm in the initial attack on the depot, said Col. John Peabody, commander of U.S. Army's 11th Engineering Brigade. Peabody said 10 or more Iraqis were wounded. Two of them were said to be near death.

In Doha, Qatar, U.S. Central Command spokesman Lt. Mark Kitchens placed blame squarely on what he called "the despicable people" who allegedly fired the flares. "This is not just an attempt to disrupt the process of peace. It's a crime against the Iraqi people," Kitchens said.

In other developments:

  • The Bush administration, concerned about the failure to find unconventional weapons in Iraq, is moving to triple the size of the team searching for scientists and for incriminating lethal materials, The New York Times reports on its Web site in a story intended for its Sunday editions. Some officials are even saying that they are losing hope of finding actual weapons, the Times says.
  • Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld embarked Saturday on a trip to the Persian Gulf region. On the way, Rumsfeld said U.S. troops will stay in Iraq and Afghanistan until stable, democratic governments have taken control. He said he was traveling to the Gulf and South Asia to thank forces "deeply involved in the successes we've achieved in Iraq and Afghanistan." Rumsfeld said previously he wants to talk to leaders of friendly countries in the area about possible reduction in the U.S. military presence now that Saddam Hussein's regime no longer poses a threat.
  • The Times reports in its Saturday editions that the Pentagon has begun sending a team of Iraqi exiles to Baghdad to be part of a temporary American-led government there.
  • The Times also said Saturday that a religious edict issued in Iran and distributed to Shiite mullahs in Iraq calls on them "to seize the first possible opportunity to fill the power vacuum in the administration of Iraqi cities." The Times says the edict, issued April 8 by an Iraqi-born cleric based in the Iranian holy city of Qum, suggests that Shiite clerics in Iraq are receiving significant direction from Iran. It is not yet clear how much popular support clerics emerging as a political force have among Iraqis, the Times points out.
  • Tehran said Saturday it is not seeking "friction" with Washington over Iraq's future government and insists it is not pushing for an Iranian-style administration in Baghdad. Hasan Rowhani, secretary of the powerful Supreme National Security Council, said, however, that Iran does not support the presence of U.S. and British troops in Iraq nor any attempt to install a "puppet regime" in Baghdad.
  • A U.S. Marine officer said tensions in the city of Kut should be reduced now that a Shiite Muslim cleric who had occupied city hall and claimed control had departed. The cleric, Said Abbas, left Friday evening after Marines delivered a letter demanding that he do so.
  • Baghdad was slowly regaining power. Brig. Gen. Steve Hawkins, commander of Task Force Fajr, or Dawn, said 75 percent of the eastern side of the city had power as of Saturday, and 25 percent of the western side. He said 65 percent to 70 percent of Baghdad had water and all the water pumping stations were working. Of the city's 12 public hospitals, 11 had water and power. All 26 sewage plants had power.

    Americans said some of the tactical weapons at the dump that exploded had been stored there by Saddam's regime, which had stashed such items in schools, homes and other populated areas.

    The U.S. military had put some of the ordnance there itself, however, collecting abandoned Iraqi caches from around the city for later disposal, officials said.

    U.S. forces initially came under small-arms fire when they went to the scene, Peabody said. They returned fire. There was no word on further casualties.

    Ultimately, Peabody said, the fallen Iraqi regime was responsible. "We are very sorry that the practice of Saddam Hussein putting his missiles ... throughout Baghdad has resulted in this."

    He said experts had certified the ammunition was "stored in a safe manner. Were it not for the fact that it was attacked, we would not have any casualties whatsoever."

    Many residents chanted angrily and waved their fists at the troops: "America's no better than Saddam," some chanted.

    Residents denounced the U.S. military for storing ammunition at the depot. Families said they had gone to American officers repeatedly to ask the military to stop controlled explosions at the dump that had been conducted in recent days.

    In remarks to Abu Dhabi Television, seen widely throughout the Arab world, Waleed al-Haliy, secretary general of a newly constituted Iraqi human rights organization, said as occupiers, the Americans should be held responsible for the explosions. He called for an international investigation

    "This is the request of the Iraqi people who continue to suffer from Saddam's weapons that are scattered around residential areas," he added.

    Many Iraqis in the area, though, contended that an intentional American blast had triggered the disaster.

    "Why?" one distraught man demanded when three American GIs went to look for missile parts in the shattered home. Responded one American: "It's not our fault."