BAGHDAD - The Jordanian Embassy lay half in ruins today, a pile of smouldering concrete where a massive bomb hidden in a pick-up truck went off yesterday.

Burned and twisted remains of cars were scattered around the dusty boulevard outside the embassy. Most of a Mercedes was on the roof of the villa next door, where it had been blown by the sheer force of the blast.

Body parts lay in the dust too, among them a severed head.

Eleven people were killed in the explosion, according to the hospital morgue, among them two children and a woman. More than 50 were injured.

Whomever the people behind the explosion wanted to hurt, the majority of the dead were Iraqi civilians.

An entire family - an old man, a woman and a little girl - were blown to pieces in their car because they happened to be driving past the embassy when the explosion went off.

It was the low point in a bad day for the Americans in Baghdad.

Overnight, the Americans admitted yesterday, two more of their soldiers were shot dead as they drove up central Baghdad's al-Rashid Street.

And a few hours after the Embassy was blown up, the central Baghdad district of Karada Kharaj was engulfed in a ferocious gun battle between American soldiers and Iraqi resistance fighters, after the Iraqi resistance blew an American Humvee to piece with a rocket-propelled grenade.

The US army said two of its soldiers were wounded in the Humvee.

Iraqi witnesses said two Iraqi civilians were shot dead, and many more injured by Americans firing randomly in the panic after the attack on the Humvee.

At the scene of the wrecked Embassy, American soldiers parked tanks all the way along the boulevard and began screaming at the crowd of Iraqis to get back - a show of force that was too late.

Sergeant Hikmet al-Ubeidi of the Iraqi police, his head swathed in a bandage, wandered around dazed as international journalists formed a scrum around him, pushing each other out of the way to get through to him.

Sergeant al-Ubeidi witnessed the whole event: "I was just sitting there when a pick-up parked in front of the main door of the Embassy," he said.

"I don't remember the colour. After one minute there was a big explosion and four of my colleagues were dead. They were young guys. I didn't give any attention to that pick-up, it didn't seem out of the ordinary."

Sergeant al-Ubeidi said he did not see whether the driver of the pick-up was inside when the explosion was set off, but rescue workers said survivors had told them the ruck was empty, and the explosion was a remote-control bomb, rather than a suicide bombing.

In Baghdad's hospitals, there was pandemonium as the injured were brought in blood-smeared.

Haidar Qadem, fresh stitches all over his body, was among the more lightly injured.

"I only went to the Embassy to try to get permission to send my father for medical treatment in Jordan," he said.

He remembered nothing of the incident: one minute he was waiting in the offices, the next he was unconscious.

Three of his relatives were injured in the bombing, and their car - a desperately valuable thing in Iraq these days - was damaged.

The Embassy bombing was the worst the attack "on a soft target" since the fall of Baghdad on April 9, according to the US commander here, Lt-Gen Ricardo Sanchez.

But as to who was responsible, and why they attacked the Jordanian Embassy, all Lt-Gen Sanchez could offer was that it was the work of "professional terrorists".

It was a change of tactics, if one of the Iraqi resistance groups which have been involved in the steady stream of attacks so far was behind the Embassy bombing, as seems likely.

Until yesterday, the targets of almost all the attacks have been US, and less frequently British occupying forces.

Many Iraqis were angrily blaming Saddam Hussein yesterday.

"It is the final breath we will get from him," Mr Qadem's uncle, Ali al-Mohammedawi, said.

But while it may have been the work of Saddam loyalists, there are other, larger local resistance groups who do not support the deposed leader in action in Iraq now.

There were plenty of possible reasons to go after the Jordanians.

After all, the Jordanian government tacitly supported the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, and allowed Americans troops and aircraft to use its bases.

Some were suggesting yesterday that the bomb may have been a response from Iraqis incensed that Jordan has given refuge to two of Saddam's daughters.

Or the purpose may just have been to add to the chaos and total lack of security that plague Baghdad under the Americans - certainly, the Americans are losing Iraqi support because of the security problem.

There were ugly accusations and counter-accusations yesterday, when Iraqis complained that when they rushed to the devastated Embassy to help, they were pushed back by Jordanian staff who accused them of being looters.

Out in Karada Kharaj, the site of yesterday's gun battle, the scene was if anything even more drastic than at the Embassy.

A crowd of American helicopter gunships wheeled low overhead, in a way that was reminiscent of Vietnam movies.

There were tanks and APCs at every intersection, with nervous soldiers manning the machine-guns and warning the crowds of Iraqis to stay back.

Smoke drifted from the building where the resistance fighters holed up.

Wissam al-Mahema was standing among a crowd of Iraqis watching from a side street packed with shops selling water-melons and groceries.

He said that after the first explosion as the RPG hit the Humvee, he was part of a crowd of Iraqis that rushed up to the main street to see what was happening.

"The Americans were shooting randomly," he said.

"They killed two innocent people." He said he saw two Iraqi civilians killed with his own eyes, one a small child, even though the side street they came from was some way from the building where the resistance fighters were.

Abbas al-Husseini confirmed that there had been random shooting from the Americans and that civilians had been hit.

Firas al-Jabari also confirmed it and said he saw on Iraqi civilian shot in the head.

He also said he saw three young women injured in a white car, and that American soldiers prevented him and other Iraqis from going to help them.

"they didn't let anybody go and see what happened to those poor girls," he said.

Several Baghdad hospitals confirmed that they had treated Iraqi civilians with gunshot wounds from the incident.

There are steady reports of wild and random firing by American soldiers in these situations.

Abd al-Razaq Karim had just bought a new television when he was hit by shrapnel from the incident, probably from the initial RPG assault on the Humvee.

"I was walking in the street," he said. "There were two personnel carriers.

When I got past these personnel carriers, I don't remember anything more." Lying in a hospital bed with the dried blood all over him, his main concern was that his car and new television would be looted.

The gun battle went on for half an hour.

The Americans allowed civilians out of the building where the resistance fighters were, before assaulting it with more than 20 Humvees and Bradley fighting vehicles and overwhelming the resistance.

The overnight deaths of two American soldiers brought to an end four days that have passed without the death of an American soldier in Iraq - a rare stretch that the US has been quietly celebrating.

But it was not for the want of attempts.

Bombs have been going off in Iraqi police stations and wounding American soldiers, and there was an unsuccessful attack on the same street, al-Rashid Street, only at the weekend.

And in Basra, an Iraqi citizen was wounded in an unsuccessful attack on British soldiers on Wednesday.


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