An explosion and fire wrecked part of a top-secret Iraqi missile plant last month, killing at least 700 people and wounding up to 1,800, dissident Iraqi sources and British news reports said Wednesday.
There was no confirmation of their reports from officials in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. Iraq's state-controlled media has made no mention of a major explosion in the area.But Western diplomats reached by telephone in Baghdad confirmed there was an explosion at the heavily guarded facility more than two weeks ago. The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they could give no details.
Such an explosion would be the worst disaster of its kind reported in Iraq. There was no word on its cause and no immediate indication of sabotage.
London's Independent daily, quoting unidentified diplomats and Middle East sources, said Wednesday the conflagration killed 700 people when it engulfed the plant south of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, on Aug. 17.
The British Broadcasting Corp. reported that Egypt's Defense Ministry confirmed there was a big explosion at the facility with many casualties.
The Iraqis, with Egyptian help, are believed to be developing a modified version of Argentina's medium-range, Condor-2 surface-to-surface missile, known as the Badr-2000, at the huge plant between Al-Hillah and Ad-Diwaniyeh, 40 miles south of Baghdad.
The complex, protected by an elite military force, reportedly covered 970 square miles, indicating it included a missile test-firing range. Sources said it is run by Iraq's Ministry for Military Industries.
An official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, an outlawed Kurdish movement fighting the Baghdad government, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that sources inside Iraq said 700 bodies have so far been recovered.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the casualty toll from the night explosion and fire could be as high as 2,500 dead and wounded.