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Suspected Chemical Facility Explodes in Baghdad; Two Killed

BY Admin  April 26, 2004 at 1:00 PM EDT

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt did not comment on the type of chemicals produced at the site or what caused the explosion. After the blast, there were no signs of precautions against chemicals in the area, according to the Associated Press.

Kimmitt said chemical munitions could mean “any number of things,” including smoke grenades. The owner of the site was “suspected of supplying chemical agents” to Iraqi insurgents, Kimmitt said but did not elaborate.

The explosion occurred shortly after U.S. troops entered the building in the northern Waziriya district. The blast leveled the front half of the one-story building, setting ablaze four Humvees parked outside.

Two soldiers were killed and five were injured, Kimmitt said. Several wounded Iraqis also were pulled from the wreckage, according to media accounts.

A cheering crowd of Iraqis looted the wrecked vehicles, taking weapons and equipment, the AP reported.

Some residents said the building housed a perfume factory, while others said it was once a scrap metal workshop that repaired weapons and recycled old ammunition.

Meanwhile, fighting erupted in Fallujah on Monday a day after U.S. officials announced a fragile cease-fire would be extended until Tuesday. One soldier and eight insurgents were reported killed in the fighting.

Two large plumes of smoke could be seen over the northern Jolan district, a poor neighborhood thought to have a large number of Sunni insurgents. According to media reports, explosions could be heard, along with the sounds of mortars and heavy machine guns.

As part of the cease-fire, Marines are to start patrolling in Fallujah with Iraqi security forces. Marine Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne said the foot patrols would be backed by armor and air support.

In the south, U.S. troops rolled into a base in the holy city of Najaf to begin replacing Spanish forces who are withdrawing from Iraq and to increase pressure on anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Overnight, al-Sadr’s forces shelled the base with 21 mortars, and one Salvadoran soldier was wounded, said Col. Pat White, commander of the U.S. 2nd Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, according to the AP.

The deployment of about 200 troops and military police within Najaf is aimed at fending off attempts by al-Sadr’s militiamen to take over the base once the Spanish forces leave in the next few days.

Over the weekend, coalition forces were able to prevent major structural damage to Iraq’s key Basra oil terminal when suicide bombers launched three boat attacks on the site, about six miles offshore.

The boats exploded, but only limited damage was caused to living quarters, some electrical generators and minor installations, Iraqi Oil Minister Mohammed Bahr al-Uloum told Reuters.

Al-Uloum said Monday that oil exports resumed Sunday from the terminal in southern Iraq, which handles about 85 percent of the country’s daily exports of 1.9 million barrels.