BAGHDAD, Iraq – A fire broke out at an ammunition dump at a U.S. base in southern Baghdad on Tuesday night, setting off a series of explosions from detonating tank and artillery shells that shook buildings miles away. The U.S. military said there were no immediate reports of casualties.
It was not clear whether the ammunition holding area at Forward Operating Base Falcon was hit by an attack. The cause of the fire was not immediately known, said Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a military spokesman.
Explosions from detonating tank and artillery ordnance and small-arms ammunition stored at the site went off for hours after the fire erupted.
Large flames and smoke rose from the region, and flashes from the blasts and showers of sparks were visible on the horizon from several miles away in central Baghdad, where the force of the blasts could be felt. The blasts came at times sporadically, at times in rapid succession, lasting into the night. Helicopters were seen in the night sky flying over the area.
The Islamic Army in Iraq, an insurgent group believed to include former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, his intelligence service and army, claimed responsibility today in a statement posted on the Internet.
“With the help of God, the mortar and rocket squads of the Islamic Army have shelled a U.S. Army base with two rockets and three mortar shells,” said the statement posted on a Web site known to be used by insurgents. “The rockets and shells fell on ammunition dumps causing them to explode. Sounds of explosions were heard in Baghdad.”
The authenticity of the statement could not be immediately verified.
The blaze broke out in an ammunition holding area, where material is kept temporarily before distribution to the units at Falcon, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a spokesman at the base. He said more than three battalions were stationed there at the time of the fire but he would not give a specific number of troops.
“There is a lot of ammunition there, but it’s not a full storage depot,” he said. “This does not degrade our operational ability at all.”
He said the cause of the fire was under investigation.
Falcon is located in a former commercial trucking depot in a sprawling industrial area at the southern entrance of Baghdad. It is near the violence-torn district of Dora, where U.S. troops have been focusing in a two-month-old sweep of the capital neighborhood-by-neighborhood aimed at rooting out militants and weapons.
It lies on the main highway heading south of Baghdad. Much of the area around it is sparsely populated, but on the opposite side of the highway, about 600 yards away, are residential neighborhoods.
Iraqi military officials said no evacuations of residents were ordered from the Dora area.
Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani went on television to reassure residents of the capital.
“The situation is under control,” he said. “There is an alert to security forces to provide any help to the residents of the area. We are waiting for information from the Americans” on the cause, he said.
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