'Baghdad fireball was an accident'

The massive blast when a petrol tanker exploded after colliding with a bus in the centre of Baghdad, killing 17 Iraqis, was an accident, said US military investigators.

Iraqi officials, however, said it was a suicide bomb run targeting a nearby police station.

"It was a fuel truck that had a traffic accident, caught fire and exploded," said Captain Jason Beck of the 1st Armored Division, which oversees security in Baghdad. "There was no evidence of a bomb."

Military explosives experts concluded the blast was accidental after conducting crater analysis and other tests at the site, Beck said.

In Washington, a senior Pentagon official said it was an accident.

Twenty people were also injured in the attack in al-Bayaa, a poor district. Most of the victims were in the bus.

Ahmed Kadhim Ibrahim, deputy interior minister, said the dead were Iraqis, and that the truck driver had planned to strike the police station.

Suicide bombers have frequently targeted Iraqi police stations in strikes at what they view as collaborators with the occupation authorities.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi official said the US army was holding Saddam Hussein in the Baghdad area where he is being interrogated by the CIA.

President George Bush said the captured dictator deserved the "ultimate penalty" but it would be up to the people of Iraq to decide whether he should be executed.

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