BAGHDAD — A truck packed with rockets blew up Wednesday in a Shiite area of Baghdad, killing 18 people in the deadliest single blast in the city in more than three months. Also, three U.S. soldiers were killed by gunfire north of the capital.
A U.S. military spokesman said the blast appeared to have been an accident that occurred as Shiite militiamen were transporting the weapons through a densely populated neighborhood of northern Baghdad — possibly to fire at a nearby American base.
Iraqi police gave a different account, saying a suicide truck bomber had targeted the house of an Iraqi police general, who was not at home but whose nephew was among those killed. U.S. officials said 75 people were wounded, and police said they included the general's elderly parents.
The U.S. military disputed the police account, saying Shiite extremists were transporting rockets and mortars on a semitrailer truck when the weapons mistakenly exploded. "They were trying to attack us … and it went off" accidentally, said U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Stover, who provided the death toll. "They wouldn't waste rockets like that" on a suicide attack.
The force of the blast crumbled several two-story buildings, buried cars under rubble, sheared off a corrugated steel roof and left a large crater on the residential street.
It was the deadliest single explosion in Baghdad since March 3, when a suicide car bomber killed 22 people in eastern Baghdad. Sixteen people died in a mortar attack in the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City on April 9.
Wednesday's carnage was a grim reminder of the bombs and killings that rocked the capital before President Bush rushed about 30,000 reinforcements to Iraq last year to curb a wave of Shiite-Sunni slaughter.
More recently, violence has dropped sharply since a May 11 cease-fire between U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and Shiite militiamen in the capital's Sadr City district. Nevertheless, a car bomb exploded Wednesday night in the Shiite district of Karradah in east Baghdad, killing seven people, including three policemen, and wounding 11 other people, according to police and hospital sources.
The three U.S. soldiers died when gunmen opened fire on them near the town of Hawija, 150 miles north of Baghdad, a U.S military statement said. No further details were released. Their deaths brought to at least 4,090 the number of U.S. military personnel who have died since the war began in March 2003.