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December 21, 2004.

Attack on U.S. Base in Iraq Leaves 24 Dead

By MICHAEL McDONOUGH, Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq - An explosion ripped through a mess tent at a military base near Mosul where hundreds of U.S. soldiers had just sat down to lunch Tuesday, killing 24 people and wounding more than 60, officials said. A radical Muslim group, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack on a U.S. base in Iraq
The dead included U.S. military personnel, U.S. contractors, foreign national contractors and Iraqi army, said Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, commander of Task Force Olympia in Mosul.
The attack came the same day that British Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites) made a surprise visit to Baghdad and described the ongoing violence in Iraq as a "battle between democracy and terror."
Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, a spokesman for Task Force Olympia, told CNN that the toll was 24 dead. He added that more than 60 were wounded.
Officials could not break down the toll of dead or wounded among the groups. Reports also differed as to the cause of the blast at the camp, which is based outside the predominantly Sunni Muslim city about 220 miles north of Baghdad.
Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall said seven of the dead were from its KBR subsidiary or its subcontractors. Halliburton and its subcontractors have lost 62 personnel while performing services under our contracts in the Kuwait-Iraq region, she said.
We do not know if it was a mortar or a place explosive," he said, describing it as a "single explosion."
The force knocked soldiers off their feet and out of their seats as a fireball enveloped the top of the tent and shrapnel sprayed into the area, Redmon said.
Amid the screaming and thick smoke in the tent, soldiers turned their tables upside down, placed the wounded on them and gently carried them into the parking lot, Redmon said.
Scores of troops crammed into concrete bomb shelters, while others wandered around in a daze and collapsed, he said.
"I can't hear! I can't hear!" one female soldier cried as a friend hugged her. A huge hole was blown in the roof of the tent, and puddles of blood, lunch trays and overturned tables and chairs covered the floor, Redmon reported. Near the front entrance, troops tended a soldier with a serious head wound, but within minutes, they zipped him into a black body bag, he said. Three more bodies were in the parking lot. "It is indeed a very, very sad day," Ham said. In other violence Tuesday, a U.S. jet bombed a suspected insurgent target west of Baghdad. Hamdi Al-Alosi, a doctor in a hospital in the city of Hit, said four people were killed and seven injured in the strike. He said the attack damaged several cars and two buildings. A U.S. military spokesman could not confirm the casualties. Elsewhere, five American soldiers and an Iraqi civilian were wounded when the Humvee they were traveling in was hit by a car bomb near Hawija, 150 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.
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