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Massive Car Bomb Kills 23 In Baghdad

Baghdad, 18 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A massive suspected suicide car bomb killed at least 23 people in Baghdad near the main entrance to the U.S.-led coalition authority.

Reports said more than 60 people were injured and the number of casualties could go higher. Most of the people killed are believed to be Iraqis. Many Iraqis had been lined up at the compound to enter for work when the attack happened.

Dead and wounded lay on the ground, flames devoured cars and black smoke spewed into the air as U.S. tanks and armoured vehicles sealed off the street near the wall surrounding the compound.

But US civil administrator L. Paul Bremer vowed that the "outrage" would fail in its goal as he prepares for crucial talks with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on a renewed UN role in the transition.

U.S. military Colonel Ralph Baker told reporters the blast was caused by a 1,000 pound (450 kilogram) bomb carried in a white Toyota pickup truck. He discounted witness accounts that more than one explosion was involved.

"There was no exchange of gunfire as a result of this incident. Immediately after the bomb exploded, soldiers assumed a defensive posture and then immediately assisted Iraqi citizens by rendering first aid to them," Baker said.

The blast site was the so-called "Assassins' Gate," the main entrance for Iraqis to access coalition headquarters. Witnesses said the blast could be felt throughout the city.

It was the biggest attack in the capital since former President Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003. The last major blast in Baghdad came on New Year's Eve, when a car bomb exploded outside a restaurant killing at least eight people and wounding 30.

Outside Baghdad, thirteen people were injured, one seriously, in a bomb blast today in the holy Shi'ite city of Karbala in central Iraq.