Baghdad fire sparks ammo blasts at US base

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The Independent Online

A fire at a US army base in Iraq set off a series of explosions by detonating tank and artillery shells, causing buildings miles away to shake.

The US military said there were no immediate reports of casualties after last night's incident in southern Baghdad.

A spokesman said it was not clear whether the depot at Forward Operating Base Falcon was hit by an attack and the cause of the fire was not known.

Explosions from detonating tank and artillery ammunition stored at the site went off for hours afterwards.

Large flames and smoke rose from the scene, and flashes from the blasts and showers of sparks were visible on the horizon several miles away in central Baghdad, where the force of the blasts could also be felt.

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.

"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 would not give exact figures on the amount of ammunition or the number of troops at the base, saying only that "more than three battalions" were stationed there at the time of the fire.

"There is an investigation into the cause of the fire," he said.

Falcon is located in a former commercial trucking depot in a sprawling industrial area at the southern entrance of Baghdad, near the violence-torn district of Dora.

US troops have been in the area as part of a sweep of the capital neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood aimed at rooting out militants and weapons.

Iraqi military officials said no evacuations of residents were ordered from the Dora area.

Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani went on Iraqi television, saying, "The situation is under control.

"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."

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