BAGHDAD, Iraq – Police on Saturday said nine people died and 14 were seriously wounded in a gas tanker explosion in west Baghdad that occurred just hours after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) left the capital following a surprise visit.
Initially, police and hospital sources said two died in Friday night's explosion of the butane truck, which was wired with explosives. It blew up in the upscale Mansour district, which houses many foreign missions and is home to top Iraqi government officials.
Police spokesman Lt. Col. Raed Abbas said seven more bodies were discovered on Saturday underneath the rubble of one of the three houses destroyed in the blast.
In the nearby al-Yarmouk Hospital, several of the injured with burn blisters on their blackened faces and limbs cried and shivered in pain.
Abdel Imam, who witnessed the blast, told reporters that the gas truck drove high speed into the Mansour districts with lights turned off moments before its driver triggered the detonation. He said that "a whole family" perished under the rubble of one of the houses demolished in the blast.
There were no members of the multinational forces among the casualties, said Capt. Brian Lucas, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. There were no injuries inside the embassies.
Rumsfeld's surprise one-day tour in Iraq took him to Mosul, Fallujah and Tikrit and the heavily barricaded Green Zone in Baghdad — he did not visit the Mansour area. Throughout his meetings with U.S. troops, he insisted that the insurgency that plagued the country for months would be defeated.
Still, violence has escalated even after the U.S. offensive in Fallujah last month that largely captured the guerrilla's main stronghold.
On Tuesday, insurgents in Mosul, a northern city that has become a center for violence, carried out the deadliest attack yet against Americans — a suicide bombing inside a mess tent at a U.S. base.
The blast — claimed by the radical Islamic group known as the Ansar al-Sunnah Army (search) — killed 22 people, most of them American soldiers and civilians. The bomber believed to have carried out the attack was probably wearing an Iraqi military uniform, the U.S. military has said.
Brig. Gen. Richard P. Formica, who investigated abuse at Abu Ghraib (search) prison, is leading a new, wide-ranging probe into security lapses that allowed the bomber to penetrate a packed mess hall on the base, authorities said Friday.
In Fallujah, around 4,000 displaced citizens returned to inspect their homes Friday, the second day that authorities have allowed some residents back into the devastated city.
Much of Fallujah remains uninhabitable since the U.S. offensive because of destroyed homes, unexploded ordinance on the streets, and a lack of water or basic supplies. But repatriating the tens of thousands of people who fled the city before the assault is a key step in the attempt to restore stability in the city ahead of Jan. 30 elections.
Many of those who arrived Friday were shocked and angry. Some said they would rather remain in makeshift camps outside the town than return to their bombed out homes.
Iraq's interim security minister, Kassim Daoud, said others were insisting on returning despite clashes that have continued in the city since the offensive ended — including heavy fighting on Thursday that killed three U.S. Marines.
A posting Friday on an Islamic Web site made a rare admission of significant casualties among insurgents in Thursday's clash, saying 24 were killed. Nineteen were said to be non-Iraqi Arabs from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The rest were said to be Iraqis.
Meanwhile on Saturday, a female member of Iraq's interim National Assembly was found dead after being kidnapped three days ago, medic Sabah Aboud of the al-Yarmouk hospital said.
Wijdan Al-Khuzaie was kidnapped by unidentified persons in front of her house in Baghdad's western neighborhood of Ghazaliya, Aboud added.