CBS News Correspondent Thalia Assuras, who is also in the capital, says the explosions not only rocked an Iraqi suburb, they "severely damaged an already strained peace."
The U.S. military blamed unknown attackers who it said fired four flares into the sprawling open missile dump. But hundreds of enraged, screaming Iraqis blamed Iraq's new American overseers, saying they repeatedly warned the military about keeping the dump near a populated area.
"This is the safety that Bush promised us?" demanded Munthir Safir, the blood of his family dried on the cloth of his white caftan. Around him, wailing women collapsed over the coffins of two adults and four teenagers. "No Saddam! No Bush! Yes to Islam!" fist-waving men shouted. The disaster touched off protests in the stricken Zafaraniyah neighborhood and in the city center.
Hours later, smoke still surged from the blackened crater left at the missile cache. Explosives boomed, a rocket whistled and rounds popped. One unexploded missile protruded from a lawn. U.S. forces promised to send removal experts.
One American soldier suffered a broken arm in the initial attack on the depot, said Col. John Peabody, commander of U.S. Army's 11th Engineering Brigade. Peabody said 10 or more Iraqis were wounded. Two of them were said to be near death.
In Doha, Qatar, U.S. Central Command spokesman Lt. Mark Kitchens placed blame squarely on what he called "the despicable people" who allegedly fired the flares. "This is not just an attempt to disrupt the process of peace. It's a crime against the Iraqi people," Kitchens said.
In other developments:
Americans said some of the tactical weapons at the dump that exploded had been stored there by Saddam's regime, which had stashed such items in schools, homes and other populated areas.
The U.S. military had put some of the ordnance there itself, however, collecting abandoned Iraqi caches from around the city for later disposal, officials said.
U.S. forces initially came under small-arms fire when they went to the scene, Peabody said. They returned fire. There was no word on further casualties.
Ultimately, Peabody said, the fallen Iraqi regime was responsible. "We are very sorry that the practice of Saddam Hussein putting his missiles ... throughout Baghdad has resulted in this."
He said experts had certified the ammunition was "stored in a safe manner. Were it not for the fact that it was attacked, we would not have any casualties whatsoever."
Many residents chanted angrily and waved their fists at the troops: "America's no better than Saddam," some chanted.
Residents denounced the U.S. military for storing ammunition at the depot. Families said they had gone to American officers repeatedly to ask the military to stop controlled explosions at the dump that had been conducted in recent days.
In remarks to Abu Dhabi Television, seen widely throughout the Arab world, Waleed al-Haliy, secretary general of a newly constituted Iraqi human rights organization, said as occupiers, the Americans should be held responsible for the explosions. He called for an international investigation
"This is the request of the Iraqi people who continue to suffer from Saddam's weapons that are scattered around residential areas," he added.
Many Iraqis in the area, though, contended that an intentional American blast had triggered the disaster.
"Why?" one distraught man demanded when three American GIs went to look for missile parts in the shattered home. Responded one American: "It's not our fault."