The proliferation of conflicting, even contradictory, media accounts of Tuesday’s explosion in Ramadi is reaching head-spinning proportions. The mystery deepened Wednesday, a full day after the BBC and other news outlets originally reported that 18 children were killed and 20 others injured by a car bomb as they gathered to play football in the western Iraqi city. At this point, the cause of the explosion, who was responsible, and the number of resulting deaths or injuries remain uncertain.

Truthdig reviewed multiple sources but found distressingly little overlap by Wednesday’s end. To recap: Initial reports of the deaths of 18 boys ages 10 to 15 were countered by an American spokesman Tuesday, who described the blast to Reuters as a “controlled” detonation set off by U.S. troops. He also said he was unaware of any other explosions in that area and that about 30 people were injured, including a few children, but none killed.

To make matters more confusing, an update from Reuters on Tuesday quoted an American military representative, Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, who suggested that “two separate incidents” may have occurred in the same area.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s Washington Post brought word that 16 children and two women had been killed by a bomb in a truck, according to Iraqi Col. Tariq al-Alwani. The Post piece also cited a Los Angeles Times report that included a statement from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who pointed to “criminal gangs” as responsible and condemned their “crime against children in their innocent playgrounds.”

The AFP ran a version closely resembling the first on this list. The United Arab Emirates newspaper Khaleej Times picked up the story, which remained on the paper’s site Wednesday, reiterating the 18-dead-and-20-wounded count and chalking the blast up to insurgent activity in the volatile city, thought to be an outpost for al-Qaida in Iraq. Sunni Sheikh Hamid al-Hais, as well as an unidentified defense official, weighed in for the AFP and stuck with the original death toll.

So, were U.S. forces behind the Ramadi blast? Criminal gangs? Were there two “incidents” or one? Was the explosion contained or intentionally deadly? The story may change again, but we hope it will soon be a coherent and verifiable report rather than yet another round in an international game of telephone.

UPDATE: Follow this link to read DoD-authorized publication Stars and Stripes’ account of the confusion.

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