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U.S.: Iraqis, not coalition, may have hit market

'We may never know' what happened, U.S. official says

Iraqi officials say a Baghdad marketplace explosion killed 15 people.
Iraqi officials say a Baghdad marketplace explosion killed 15 people.

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DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- A U.S. Central Command spokesman said Thursday that "we may never know" precisely what happened at a Baghdad marketplace, but the destruction seen on Iraqi television probably was not caused by a coalition bomb.

Iraqi officials said 15 people were killed in the Shaab district when a U.S. missile struck the market.

"We think it's entirely possible that this may have been in fact an Iraqi missile that either went up and came down, or given the behaviors of the regime lately, it may have been a deliberate attack inside of town," said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks at the daily Central Command briefing.

Brooks said that coalition planes did fly a mission over Baghdad at the time the marketplace was hit, but "not in that area."

"During that time, they encountered surface-to-air missile fire," he said.

Brooks said that anti-aircraft fire may have been "uncontrolled" -- meaning not targeted by radar, which would key coalition planes to the missile launcher's location.

Pentagon officials had earlier said that a U.S. airstrike did target nine Iraqi surface-to-surface missiles and launchers in residential areas of Baghdad about 3 a.m. ET Wednesday, but no target was near the Shaab district. Some of those systems were within 300 feet of homes.

"It's just a sign of the brutality of this regime, and a sign of how little they care about civilians, that they put military assets close to civilians," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said.

A U.S. military official privately told CNN that the coalition targeted the launchers and missiles with 2,000 pound weapons, adding that the close proximity in that target area almost certainly might have caused some damage to nearby homes.

But, the official said, it was essential to attack the weapons before they could be used against coalition troops in the days ahead as they approach Baghdad.

Photographs of the bombed marketplace have now been analyzed by military officials who concluded the craters and other damage was not representative of what would have happened from a 2,000-pound bomb.

Brooks said a Central Command investigation was under way, but said there likely won't be "a final answer until we're in Baghdad ourselves."

"Which we will be," he added.

"The best we can do at this point is account for everything we did and we have accounted for our weapon systems that we fired on that night," he said. "They hit their target, we're certain of that. The rest of the story, we just don't know. We may never know."

Iraqi Health Minister Umid Midhat Mubarak accused coalition fighters of targeting Iraqi civilians, saying "women and children are being attacked, as soldiers are being attacked."

He accused coalition forces of targeting civilians with "smart bombs," or guided missiles, and using cluster bombs in narrow streets.

Mubarak said there have been about 4,000 civilian casualties and that 350 Iraqi civilians have been killed. (Full story)

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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