BAGHDAD, Iraq — A massive explosion that shook central Baghdad early Sunday dug a 20-foot crater in a strip of parkland along the eastern bank of the Tigris River and shattered windows for several city blocks. There were no official reports of casualties.
The blast, occurring minutes after Iran announced that it had fired two missiles at the Iraqi capital, was the seventh in central Baghdad since March 14. The explosion, near three major tourist hotels, sent huge panels of glass crashing to the pavement and temporarily knocked out power in the Sheraton.
Later Sunday, an Iraqi military spokesman obliquely acknowledged the attack when he announced that Iraqi warplanes had again struck the Iranian towns of Mehran and Hormuzabad and a military camp in western Iran. Four more Iranian towns were hit Sunday afternoon. The spokesman said that the strikes were in retaliation "for Iranian crimes against our towns and their insistence on aggression."
Britons Advised to Leave
The recent intermittent explosions in Baghdad prompted Britain on Friday to advise British nationals living in the center of the city to leave. Most East European nations had already issued similar advisories to their citizens.
Baghdad's resident community of Americans is relatively tiny, but they were counseled by the U.S Embassy to move up vacations wherever possible.
While the Iranians have announced seven separate missile attacks on Baghdad, the Iraqis at first attributed the explosions to saboteurs.
But last week, President Saddam Hussein noted in a televised address that "some Arab traitors gave the Iranians a number of missiles to strike at Baghdad and Kirkuk with the hope of terrifying the people of Iraq." Kirkuk is in northern Iraq.
'Arab Traitors' Not Identified
While the "Arab traitors " have never been identified, there has been officially encouraged speculation here that either Libya or Syria has provided Iran with a number of Soviet-made Scud-B ground-to-ground missiles.
In Iran, President Ali Khamenei charged that Iraq is attempting to force Iran to the peace table by launching air strikes against towns and cities in what has become known as "the war of the cities."
"We will end these pressures with greater pressure," Khamenei on Saturday told a meeting that commemorated Iran's losses in its recent, unsuccessful offensive against Iraq in the southern Hawizah marshes.
Wants Partial Cease-Fire
Despite the escalating nature of the attacks, Iran made clear over the weekend that it is willing to negotiate only a partial cease-fire in the war.
Iraq has vowed to continue its military pressure on Iran until Tehran agrees to a comprehensive peace settlement.
But Iran's leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has said there can be no peace as long as President Hussein is in power here.
Iran's statement came as U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar arrived in Saudi Arabia on a mission to try to arrange a cease-fire in the Persian Gulf War, now in its fifth year. Perez de Cuellar, who negotiated a similar cease-fire last June that lasted until March 4 of this year, said that he is prepared to visit Iran if "the Iranians are prepared for my going there for intentions which are well known."