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Truck blast kills 11 on Baghdad street

US, Iraqi officials at odds on cause

BAGHDAD -- A truck exploded at a crowded intersection here yesterday, killing 11 Iraqis and sparking conflicting accounts about whether the blast was the latest act of terrorism by Saddam Hussein loyalists or an accident involving a fuel tanker.

 

Iraqi police and witnesses said the truck was carrying explosives for an attack on a nearby police station when it struck a bus and blew up in rush-hour traffic around 6 a.m. in the Bayaa neighborhood of southwest Baghdad, setting off a massive fireball. Among the victims were women, children, and commuters on the crammed bus. The death toll was the largest in a series of explosions around the capital since US troops seized Hussein on Saturday.

Iraq's deputy interior minister, Ahmed Kadhim Ibrahim, blamed the blast on guerrillas who support the former dictator seeking revenge for his arrest.

But the US military said later the explosion, which injured as many as 20 people, was caused when a fuel truck collided with another vehicle. A coalition official, speaking on condition of anonymity, provided no details on how that conclusion was reached and said the investigation had been turned over to the Iraqis.

In other violence, a US soldier was killed in an overnight attack in central Baghdad, a US military spokeswoman said today. The death was the first US combat fatality since Sunday's announcement of the capture of Hussein.

The spokeswoman told Reuters a patrol from the First Armored Division was attacked in the Karradah neighborhood. She did not give further details.

Meanwhile, Hussein was being held in or near Baghdad, Governing Council member Mouwafak Rubaie told reporters. Previously, his location had not been disclosed and there had been reports he was flown out of the country.

A council member, Adnan Pachachi, defended the Iraqi war crimes tribunal set up to try Hussein and other Iraqis for human rights abuses, amid criticism that Iraq could not muster the expertise to conduct the trial. Pachachi said global experts would be welcome and it was possible a non-Iraqi judge could be on the panel.

The differing accounts of the explosion, and who should investigate it, were a sign of the confusion and fear gripping a city threatened by faceless attackers and guarded by a sometimes uneasy partnership of US troops and Iraqi police.

Sergeant Russell Cook said that because no Americans were killed, the inquiry was turned over to Iraqi police, "so that they can learn how to do real investigations and we can hand it off to them."

But Iraqi police Sergeant Kuhdeir Abbas, 27, said the force was underequipped and undertrained for such a complex investigation.

"To fight terrorism, we need special forces and extra time and effort. We need more police," said Abbas, who helped pull bodies from the wreckage and believes he narrowly escaped death when the truck didn't make it to his nearby police station. Iraqi police have come under a series of car bombing attacks, and many stations are now cordoned off behind concrete walls and concertina wire.

At the scene of the blast, the chaos would have challenged the most seasoned investigator. The explosion destroyed everything within a 35-yard radius, police said. The twisted wreckage of a yellow tractor-truck cab littered the intersection.

Anguished residents buried stray body parts beside the road within hours of the explosion, festooning the tiny graves with banners proclaiming the dead "innocent martyrs." One man shouted obscenities against Saddam Hussein, Al Qaeda, and "terrorists."

Neighborhood residents blamed Hussein loyalists and called on the US to keep "foreign terrorists" out of Iraq.

"Bush wants the terrorists to expend all their hatred here so they won't threaten America, and we are suffering," said Luay Hassan, 42, who blamed the bombing on Arab foreigners.

Sabah Qasim, 45, could not shake the image of a street littered with sandals and loaves of bread soaked with blood.

"We pulled out two women and four children, all dead," said Ahmed Jassim. "In the kids' pockets we found two apples."

Some who helped pull bodies from the wreckage said they resented what they view as the hands-off approach by US forces.

"If it had been one American soldier hit, they would have come straight to the scene," said Alaa Salman, a political science student at Baghdad University. "They don't seem to give a damn."

Material from The Associated Press was included in this report. Anne Barnard can be reached at abarnard@globe.com.

Saddam Hussein Saddam Hussein after his capture by US forces. (Reuters Photo)
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