BAGHDAD, Iraq – Insurgents hit an ammunition dump on a U.S. base in Baghdad with a mortar round, setting off fiery explosions through the night that shook buildings miles away, while renewed attacks killed at least 14 people, primarily in the capital.
The corpses of seven people were turned in to the morgue in the southern city of Kut, including at least three apparent victims of sectarian death squads that were fished out of the Tigris in Suwayrah, 25 miles south of Baghdad where bodies dumped in the capital often surface. They were shot, and had their hands bound.
The United Nations' top humanitarian official said some 100 people are being killed in Iraq every day with sectarian and revenge attacks by militias and death squads going unchecked.
"Many of those are killed by gunshots or have been tortured to death," Jan Egeland said in Geneva. "Revenge killing seems to be totally out of control."
Among the 14 overall dead in attacks, five people were killed in three separate car bombings in Baghdad, while gunmen also shot and killed a policeman in the capital. Another policeman was shot and killed in the northern city of Kirkuk, while a civilian died in a roadside bombing on a highway in the north.
Government offices and schools were nearly entirely empty in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, with people staying away after leaflets signed by a previously unknown insurgent group warned of retaliatory attacks on government offices if a local army commander was not relieved of duty.
The group, Mujahdeen of Diyala, claimed the commander was responsible for attacks on Sunni Arabs in the province. The leaflets, dated Oct. 6, gave Wednesday as the deadline for his removal.
"These are the so-called representatives of the people, they do nothing... while the sons of Iraq are murdered," the pamphlet said.
Abu Khalid, who works in the Baquoba municipal offices, said he stayed home out of fear.
"The situation is dangerous and the insurgent's statement looks serious," he said. "We cannot risk our lives."
The Islamic Army in Iraq, a nationalist anti-occupation insurgent group, claimed responsibility for the Tuesday night attack on the U.S. Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad near the Dora neighborhood that caused stockpiles of tank and artillery shells to explode through the night in spectacular bursts of flame and sparks.
"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," the group said in a statement posted on a Web site known to be used by insurgents. "The rockets and shells fell on ammunition dumps causing them to explode. Sounds of explosions were heard in Baghdad."
The authenticity of the statement could not be immediately verified, but the U.S. military did confirm that the base's ammunition depot had been hit at 10:40 p.m. Tuesday by an 82mm mortar round fired by insurgents from a nearby residential area.
"Intelligence indicates that civilians aligned with a militia organization were responsible for last night's mortar attack," base spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington said.
There were no injuries reported, and Withington said the attack had no strategic effect.
"The attack does not affect ongoing Baghdad security operations in the focus areas, and the loss of ammunition will not degrade the operational capability of the" U.S. forces in Baghdad, he said. "The base's essential services were not disrupted."
When the base was hit, personnel were put on full alert and soldiers and base employees were moved to bomb shelters, Withington said.
Explosions from detonating tank and artillery ordnance and small-arms ammunition stored at the site went off for hours after the fire erupted. Helicopters were seen in the night sky flying over the area.
Withington said the military had scrambled aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles in an attempt to locate the mortar position.
The explosions on the base damaged nearby homes, but there were no casualties in the neighborhood, police Capt. Furat Gaiti said.
"The windows of my house plus three neighboring houses were smashed out from the heavy explosions," said neighborhood resident Sabir Hassan, a 50-year-old teacher. "At first we thought the insurgents were shelling us with mortars and we rushed outside our houses."
The mortar round set fire to an ammunition holding area, where material is kept temporarily before distribution to the units at Falcon, Withington said. He said more than three battalions were stationed there at the time of the attack but he would not give a specific number of troops.
Firefighters and hazardous material experts continued Wednesday to put out the blaze, while engineers and explosive ordinance specialists were to begin the clearance of unexploded ordinance, Withington said.
Falcon is located in a former commercial trucking depot in a sprawling industrial area at the southern entrance of Baghdad. It is near the violence-torn district of Dora, where U.S. troops have been focusing in a 2-month-old sweep of the capital neighborhood-by-neighborhood aimed at rooting out militants and weapons.