Western Baghdad was shaken by a huge explosion Wednesday that Iran said was caused by one of its missiles. Witnesses said the blast occurred near two schools and a bus station and may have caused hundreds of casualties.
The explosion came shortly after Iran said it had fired a ground-to-ground missile at the Iraqi capital. Iraq struck back with an air raid on Tehran that the Iranians said killed at least 10 people and wounded 50.
Iraqi officials said nothing about the cause of the Baghdad explosion or the number of casualties.
A witness said the victims were students, pedestrians and people driving by in cars. About 50 cars and buses were wrecked in the blast, according to the witnesses.
Huge Cloud of Smoke Seen
Military police and secret service agents sealed the capital's western sector, over which a huge cloud of white smoke billowed, and barred reporters.
Ambulances packed with victims were seen speeding out of the area, but reporters were forbidden to enter hospitals to which the wounded were taken.
"Luckily, the explosion occurred in an empty, open space," an empty lot, a witness said. "Most of the victims are wounded. Some were killed."
"Most of the casualties were hit by glass shards flying from nearby buildings," said a witness who was cut by flying glass.
6 Missiles Reported Fired
Iran has claimed to have fired six ground-to-ground missiles into Baghdad since March 14, during an escalation of the 4 1/2-year-old war between the Persian Gulf neighbors. Iraq said two of the explosions were caused by saboteurs' bombs but has made no comment on the others.
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency said Wednesday's missile attack was in retaliation for an overnight Iraqi air raid on Tehran that killed nine people and wounded 14. The report was monitored in Nicosia, Cyprus.
"A missile was fired into Baghdad today, shaking the pillars of the Iraqi regime once again," the news agency said.
Iran also said that it shelled the southern port of Basra, Iraq's second largest city, and five other points in the area Wednesday. It said it set ablaze several oil installations.