U.S., Iraqi forces claim big weapons cache

BAGHDAD -- In a weekend blitz that U.S. military officials said "severely degrades" the capability of Iraqi insurgents, American and Iraq troops seized one "huge" and three smaller weapons and munitions caches in Baghdad.

The cache described as huge by Lt. Col. Steve Stover of the Multi-National Division/Baghdad and the 4th Infantry Division, was found Saturday in the west Rashid part of the capital. It contained 90 Soviet-made rockets, several mortars made in Iran, mines, TNT and numerous other explosives, Stover said.

At the same site, Iraqi soldiers also found a small arsenal of related devices, such as 500 pounds of ball bearings and digital timers, which can be used for the insurgents' homemade bombs.

Earlier in the day, three separate smaller caches were discovered by both the Iraqi army and civilians, Stover said.

The munitions were taken to a nearby coalition forces combat outpost for disposal.

"Taking such an enormous amount of weapons and munitions out of the hands of militants and extremists severely degrades their ability to harm the citizens of Iraq and the Iraqi security and coalition forces," Stover said.

The operations came as Iraqi military forces converged on Maysan Province, a Shiite stronghold in the south. The new drive is intended to repeat military successes in Basra, also in southern Iraq, in March and April, and more recently in the Sadr City section of eastern Baghdad.

"This will give us a chance to make it a demilitarized area," Iraqi Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said at a press briefing. "It is an operation to disarm people and restore security."

Tharp reports for the Merced (Calif.) Sun-Star.