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Marines find insurgency's deadly tools in Haditha

Weapons cache found buried in courtyard of mosque

From Arwa Damon

U.S. Marines look at a weapons cache discovered buried in the courtyard of a Sunni mosque in Haditha.


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HADITHA, Iraq (CNN) -- While the insurgents in Haditha may have faded away for the time being, they left their mark behind.

U.S. Marines and members of Iraqi Special Forces on Thursday uncovered a sizable weapons cache hidden in a shrine and yard adjacent to a mosque in east-central Haditha, close to the Euphrates River, and continued to uncover deadly buried roadside bombs. The city itself is almost literally an improvised explosive device (IED) field.

According to Capt. James Kimber, commander of India Company, the route in front of the mosque was being swept for mines when the unit was hit by an IED. Soldiers were unhurt and discovered a second IED with a detonation cord leading to the mosque. Iraqi Special Forces searched the mosque, but found nothing. The unit hit by the IED reported seeing a male fleeing from the scene. Two homes were searched; nine males were detained and then released.

Adjacent to the mosque is the crumbling shrine of Sheik Ahmad Rifa and a small graveyard. From two large blue plastic tubs Marines pulled out explosives including rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), bomb-making materials and grenades. Hidden underneath the crumbling rubble of the graveyard and the rock-filled garden surrounding the shrine, Marines found 16 155mm artillery shells, about half of which were already rigged with detonation cord. Buried in the catacombs of the shrine, they found more RPG rounds, RPGs, and AK-47 assault rifles.

With their American advisers, Iraqi Special Forces searched a three-house compound behind the mosque and detained three individuals -- two elderly men who work at the mosque and a younger man, a relative. All pleaded their innocence.

"All we do here is turn on the call to prayer. If I had seen this here, I would have reported it," one man said. "We hate death, we are pained by it. I wouldn't even hurt an ant." He suggested men had come at night and buried the explosives.

After more questioning, the man said they were told "not to come to the shrine anymore." Pressed on who "they" were, he claimed not to know, saying they were people who frequented the mosque. Marines detained the three for questioning.

"It takes two to three hours to bury one of these IEDs," one Marine said. "There is no way that they have not seen anything if we found two of these IEDs in front of the mosque and found this weapons cache here."

Master Sgt. Jeff Morris, EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) Team Leader in Haditha, said most of the IEDs found in Haditha were buried underneath the pavement. Insurgents have come up with ways to tap into the local power supply to keep the batteries on the detonators charged.

Typically, Marines have been finding suspicious wires protruding from the asphalt throughout the city. Buried underneath are usually two to four 155mm rounds and sometimes propane tanks.

"It's not more sophisticated, but it's a more painstaking process of setting an IED, more extravagant," Morris said. "It makes it harder to spot, but their weak spot is that somewhere, they have to expose the wire to get a signal."

Beginning Friday, Marines are going to sweep through every house, "every door, every cupboard, every yard," Lt. Col. Chet Chessani told CNN. The task, although disruptive, has to be done, he said.

Civilians have been coming forward and asking if they can walk the street and go to the market. Marines tell them it is safe to walk around the city, but that some routes may be closed due to ongoing operations.

CNN Producer Arwa Damon is embedded with the 3rd Battalion 1st Marines in Iraq.

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