Insurgent mortar fire ignites U.S. ammunition dump
Insurgent mortar fire hit an American military ammunition dump late Tuesday night, setting off huge explosions and rattling windows and nerves throughout the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, military and civilian officials said Wednesday.
Tank rounds, artillery shells and small-arms ammunition at the Forward Operating Base Falcon site were ignited by the explosion and subsequent fire, casting an orange glow overnight and into Wednesday morning. No injuries were reported by late Wednesday.
According to military spokesmen, the first explosion happened around 10:40 p.m. Soldiers and base workers were evacuated from the area, and emergency workers raced to control the blaze.
FOB Falcon is in the central Rasheed district of Baghdad. A mortar round fired from southern Baghdad caused the blast, officials said.
“Intelligence indicates that civilians aligned with a militia organization were responsible for last night’s mortar attack,” 4th Infantry Division and Multi-National Division-Baghdad spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathon Withington was quoted by news agencies as saying.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the fire was still smoldering and more rounds were occasionally cooking off and exploding.
Three battalions, including tank and infantry units, are stationed at the base, but the loss of the ammunition “will not degrade the operational capability of [the division],” a U.S. military news release read. The troops at Falcon have been participating in Operation Together Forward, a massive U.S.-Iraqi effort to clamp down on sectarian violence in Baghdad.
Soldiers as far away as Camp Liberty, near the Baghdad airport, reported hearing the blast, which rattled windows on the base. Many rushed out of their offices and bunks, thinking the explosions were an attack on Camp Liberty.
By Wednesday, the Islamic Army in Iraq — one of several insurgent groups in Iraq — claimed responsibility for the attack.
“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,” a Web statement read. “The rockets and shells fell on ammunition dumps causing them to explode.”
There was no way to verify the group’s claim of responsibility.
Other local Iraqi officials said Shiite militiamen were behind the attack.
FOB Falcon is in a largely industrial area of Baghdad, near the district of Dora. Iraqi citizens in the area were notified of the attack and its suspected cause but were not being evacuated.
Iraq’s interior minister, Jawad al Bolani, took to the airwaves to give details of the attack and reassure area residents that the incident was under control.
“There is an alert to security forces to provide any help to the residents of the area,” he said.
Stars and Stripes reporter Anita Powell contributed to this report.