'Many dead' as blast rocks Jordanian embassy in Baghdad

Two American soldiers killed in gun battle in Iraqi capital

A massive bomb exploded outside the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad today. A nearby hospital said between seven and 12 people were killed, with more than 50 wounded, but paramedics said 12 bodies had been taken from the wreckage.

After the blast, young Iraqi men chanting anti-Jordanian slogans stormed the gate of the embassy and smashed portraits of Jordan's King Abdullah II and his late father, King Hussein.

A witness said the bomb appeared to have been in an empty minibus parked outside the walled embassy compound and was detonated remotely. Mandoh Gaahi, the witness, said the blast shook buildings and broke windows hundreds of yards away. Two of the dead were still inside burned-out cars.

The mangled shell of one vehicle could be seen on top of a building next to the embassy.

The shells of at least five cars sat outside the embassy wall at the west edge of the Iraqi capital. Atop the cars was what appeared to be the chassis of the minibus. Nothing else was left of that vehicle.

In a separate incident, two American soldiers were killed in a gun battle in Baghdad, ending a four-day stretch in which the military said there had been no combat fatalities.

The two soldiers of the 1st Armoured Division died in a firefight in the Al Rashid district of the Iraqi capital at 11pm last night. A translator with the soldiers was wounded, according to the US Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

The deaths brought to 55 the number of US forces killed in combat since 1 May, when President George Bush declared major fighting had ended.

US soldiers arrived in two tanks and six Humvees soon after the embassy blast, which sent out a huge plumes of thick black smoke towering above the embassy compound. There were thought to have been about 30 people inside the embassy at the time of the blast.

The soldiers took control of the embassy and one of them was seen on the roof. A tank was parked in front of the compound and the area around it was cordoned off.

A Sudanese man working as a waiter at the embassy said those inside heard the explosion and many of them suffered minor injuries from the shock of the blast. He was bleeding from the left side of his face.

A Jordanian official, speaking in the Jordanian capital of Amman on condition of anonymity, said initial reports indicated the explosion may have been due to a car bomb.

One wall of the embassy compound was blown down, revealing a generator, also apparently destroyed in the blast.

Tensions between the neighboring countries have been high because of Jordan's support for the US-led war on Iraq.

While Jordan is a major entry point into Iraq and remains a large trading partner, many Iraqis are resentful that Jordan dropped its support for Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War, and allowed U.S. troops to use its soil as a base during the latest war.

King Abdullah II last week granted "humanitarian asylum" to two daughters of Saddam, whose husbands took refuge in Jordan but were lured back and killed by Saddam's regime in 1996.

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