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Munitions explosion kills civilians

Enraged Iraqis protest ammo dump's location

Protesting Iraqis blame the U.S. military for the blast.
Protesting Iraqis blame the U.S. military for the blast.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Hundreds of Iraqis were rallying against the United States on Saturday after a cache of confiscated weapons exploded in southern Baghdad, killing six people, according to the U.S. military, and 14, according to residents.

The U.S. forces and the Iraqis also offered differing numbers of wounded, with U.S. Central Command saying four people were injured and the residents of the Zafraniya neighborhood in southern Baghdad saying at least 30. (Gallery: Scenes from the blast's aftermath)

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it visited two hospitals where the wounded were taken and saw at least six people dead and more than 50 injured.

Central Command also said a U.S. soldier was wounded in a firefight with "an unknown number of individuals" who attacked the forces guarding the dump and fired an "unknown incendiary device" into it, causing the explosion.

The residents of Zafraniya said they were furious because they had previously warned U.S. troops that the ordnance dump posed a threat.

The cache was stored at a former Iraqi military base several miles southeast of Baghdad's city center. How and when the munitions dump was placed there was in dispute, however, as U.S. military officials blamed the Saddam Hussein regime and U.S. soldiers said they had brought the weapons to the site from all over the capital.

A Central Command official told CNN's Kathleen Koch that the cache was too close to the neighborhood to be destroyed in place but had not yet been made safe for transport.

"We don't want to just pick that stuff up and move it," the official said. "We don't know if it's booby trapped."

"We wouldn't just destroy it in a residential area," the official added.

A Central Command statement read: "The location of the ammunition cache near a civilian population is another example of the former regime's disregard for the safety of Iraqi citizens."

Some U.S. soldiers said they had brought weapons to the site from all over Baghdad.

U.S. forces moved into the residential area to help clear the rubble from one destroyed house. Its front yard was transformed into a large, water-filled crater, about 10 feet deep and 25 feet wide.

One Iraqi man was pulled alive from the debris, and at least one body was recovered.

Troops of the 101st Airborne Division helped clear rubble from the destroyed houses.

An exasperated U.S. soldier standing on the rubble shouted for backup, and then ordered the Iraqi residents to clear the way for a military vehicle, to help rescue the individual.

"I know there's somebody alive in there," he told CNN's Nic Robertson. When asked if he was trying to remove the person, he said "I'm going to do my damnedest."

The U.S. forces, as well as the CNN crew, were forced back from the area several times, after crowds of angry Iraqis became volatile. Iraqi residents told Robertson they were furious because they had previously warned the U.S. troops that the ordnance dump was a danger to residents.

"This building here is about 500 meters from our area and they promised us no explosion at all [for] the past three days," said Dr. Amar Sabah of the Yormuk Hospital said, referring to the ammunition dump.

"But now this morning at eight, there was a huge explosion and many people were killed and also others are injured," Sabah added.

One enraged resident repeatedly yelled, "Why?," shouting that women and children were among those inside the house.

Protesters gather

Iraqis stand in the rubble of several homes destroyed by the blast.
Iraqis stand in the rubble of several homes destroyed by the blast.

By Saturday afternoon, an angry crowd assembled in the streets of downtown Baghdad carrying signs reading, "No Bombs Between Houses."

At a nearby mosque, several women and children with bandaged heads and limbs were treated for injuries. They were later transferred to a hospital.

U.S. soldiers dressed the wounds of one young Iraqi man, who was badly burned on his hands, face and legs.

Baghdad residents awoke to the sounds of the blasts, which began at 7 a.m. Saturday (11 p.m. Friday EST) and continued, intermittently, for several hours. Robertson said that at one point, explosions were heard for 30 minutes, without interruption.

"The [Palestine Hotel] shook worse than during coalition bombing," Robertson said.

Shortly after arriving on the scene, Robertson reported seeing rockets going off into the sky.

Soldiers said the ordnance included rocket-propelled grenades, rockets "as large as trucks" and torpedoes.

CNN Correspondent Jim Clancy contributed to this report.

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