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Explosions strike central Baghdad

At least 10 rockets exploded Sunday night in central Baghdad near headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition, officials said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
A U.S. Blackhawk helicopter hovers over the former palace of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, located in the 'Green Zone' in Baghdad, late Sunday afternoon.Hussein Malla / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

At least 10 rockets exploded Sunday night in central Baghdad near the area housing the headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition, officials said. Sirens blared for several minutes, and smoke and flames were visible.

The former Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs was on fire, a witness said. The building already was severely damaged by U.S. bombing during the war last year. A U.S. military mess hall sits behind the building.

The rockets struck at about 7:30 p.m. on the northern edge of the Green Zone, which houses the coalition headquarters. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Iraqi police and witnesses said the Russian-made Katyusha rockets were fired from a white Toyota Land Cruiser that was parked near the ministry building. Soon after, the vehicle exploded, but it wasn’t clear if that blast was intentional.

Iraqi officials had said earlier that one of the explosions was caused by a car bomb.

Area cordoned off
Iraqi police immediately sealed off the area around the Land Cruiser and U.S. armored vehicles rushed out of the Green Zone, possibly in search of suspects. U.S. troops also patrolled on foot in the area immediately beyond the police security cordon. Security was also beefed up at the nearby “Assassins Gate,” one of the main Green Zone entrances.

The witnesses said the rockets were aimed at the Baghdad Convention Center, a major coalition building where the U.S. military press office is based, and the al-Rasheed Hotel, home to many coalition staff.

Inside the Green Zone, employees at the Baghdad Convention Center fled into the basement, said Army 1st Sgt. Stephen Valley, a military spokesman.

“Everyone’s OK. Everyone’s been accounted for,” Valley said. “They’re all down in the basement.”

A U.S. military spokesman confirmed that 10 explosions occurred “in the vicinity of” the convention center, and said officials were investigating.

Looking for heat
Shortly after the blasts, a U.S. Army OH-58 Kiowa helicopter, a surveillance aircraft, and an Apache helicopter flew low over the Tigris River, possibly to seek out the heat signature of the rocket launchers. The helicopters use infrared sights to seek out the heat left by the rocket tubes.

The Green Zone was last struck on March 3, when a U.S. Army spokesman confirmed that a rocket hit the area. No one was injured and no damage was reported. On the same day, insurgents fired four mortars at the 4th Infantry Division’s base in the northern city of Tikrit, including one that landed near a dining hall during dinner time. No one was hurt.

Last month, the mess hall of the 1st Cavalry Division at Camp Victory on the northeastern side of Baghdad International Airport was hit by mortars. Three soldiers were hurt.