Iraq police find arms cache in truckload of hay

BAGHDAD - Iraqi police found a lethal cache of weapons hidden under bales of hay on Sunday in a truck bound for Baghdad where Shiite militiamen are battling Iraqi and US forces, the American military said.

Three "Shiite extremists" were arrested when the truck was intercepted near the town of Jisr Diyala, about 10 kilometres (seven miles) southeast of Baghdad, Lieutenant Colonel Kohn Kolasheski told AFP.

Police of the 3rd Brigade, First National Police Division, intercepted the truck after a tip-off from residents and discovered bags of weapons hidden under hay in the back of the truck, he said by telephone from Jisr Diyala.

The cache comprised 29 120 mm mortar rounds, seven 107 mm rockets, 541 anti-tank mines, five rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) rounds and about 100 fuses.

"Each of these can be used in the making of IEDs (improvised explosive devices -- roadside bombs)," said Kolasheski, US commander in the Jisr Diyala area.

It was not immediately clear where the weapons were coming from but those arrested said they were bound for Baghdad, he added.

Since late March, Iraqi and US forces have been battling Shiite fighters in the east Baghdad district of Sadr City, bastion of the Mahdi Army militia of radical anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The death toll since the fighting flared up on April 6 after a week-long lull is close to 90 and government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh warned on Sunday said there would be no let-up in security force operations.

"We will continue until we secure Sadr City. We will not come out, we will not give up until the people of Sadr City have a normal life," Dabbagh told AFP.

The Iraqi army has warned residents that the streets of Sadr City are littered with roadside bombs planted by militiamen to impede the movement of the security forces.

Kolasheski said police in his area had "performed extremely well" during clashes late last month between security forces and Shiite militiamen.

"No one left his post, they all stood their ground," he said, adding that security forces in Jisr Diyala had killed 11 militiamen, wounded five and captured 23.

The Iraqi authorities announced earlier Sunday that they had dismissed 1,300 troops for failing in their duties during a crackdown on Shiite militiamen in the southern city of Basra from March 25.

The raids ordered by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sparked violence in other Shiite areas of Iraq, including Jisr Diyala, which subsided in most areas except Sadr City when Sadr called his fighters off the streets on March 30.

"We have not seen much addition of violence since then," Kolasheski said.


04/13/2008 18:55 GMT

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