- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2003

BAQUBAH, Iraq U.S. forces seized an airfield yesterday in the northeastern Iraqi city of Baqubah near the border with Iran, along with a stash of missiles and dozens of people suspected of hiding weapons.
Officers with the 4th Infantry Division said U.S. troops detained 40 Iraqis but met no resistance as they moved into the airfield on the northern edge of the city in the early morning.
"This was not a military target, but it will most likely become a forward operating base for us where we will push logistical assets," said Lt. Col. Robert Valdivia.
Two men also were detained outside the air base after Iraqi military assault rifles were found in their van. Intelligence officers said they appeared to be arms dealers.
Some soldiers reported seeing a vehicle mounted with a heavy machine gun fleeing from a village nine miles outside the airport as the U.S. troops approached. Local residents also pointed U.S. troops to a stash of 12 missiles, which Iraqi soldiers apparently had left there several weeks ago.
Col. Valdivia said U.S. regular forces had not yet established control in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, where several paramilitary groups are believed to be competing for control.
"We did not meet any resistance, but that does not mean there are not MEK or other noncompliant forces operating here in Baqubah," he said. MEK stands for Mojahedin Khalq, or the People's Mojahedin, the main armed Iranian opposition.
Saddam Hussein sheltered the People's Mojahedin, and the U.S.-led coalition targeted its bases. However, the U.S. military says it has reached a cease-fire agreement with the group.
A spokesman for the group has said the truce agreement allows the guerrillas to keep their arms and carry on their fight against Tehran.
The Baqubah airport showed no signs of recent use but was littered with the remains of light and vintage aircraft, including helicopters bearing the Iraqi flag that were bulldozed aside to make way for U.S. tanks and fighting vehicles.
More forces from the 4th Infantry's 2nd Brigade are expected in the coming days to pour into the airfield, from where they will conduct operations throughout Diyala, between the Iranian border and the northeastern edge of Baghdad.
U.S. forces now control at least five air bases in the country. The Pentagon has denied news reports the United States is seeking a base for military operations in Iraq after an Iraqi government is established.


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