- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

HILLAH, Iraq — An arms cache laid out in City Hall here this week bore testimony to a coalition success, but also to a giant headache — how to find more of them.

On rows of tables and on the floor lay samples of the implements being used in the insurgency against U.S. troops and their allies.

They included 16 mortars, an antiaircraft missile, 40 antipersonnel land mines, 63 hand grenades, nine sticks of dynamite, 37 rocket-propelled grenades and 14 boxes of TNT.

After locals had a chance to gawk at the display Thursday, Polish troops took the cache away to be added to a burgeoning collection at a former gun factory, which now serves as their base near this city, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.

The armory was discovered during a raid on a house in the village of Elbu Alwan, which has about 2,000 people and lies about 10 miles north of Hillah behind a verdant orchard.

It is one of two Sunni villages in this predominantly Shi’ite area. Its former chieftain, Mohamed Jawad Oneifus, owned the land on which a huge mass grave was discovered — the first to be visited by L. Paul Bremer when he became the country’s top administrator.

Coalition forces arrested Mr. Oneifus just before Mr. Bremer’s visit, but erroneously released him before they realized who he was. He has not been seen since.

In the other Sunni village, Elbu Mustafa, almost all the men are reputed to have been Saddam Hussein’s private security guards — the Fedayeen Saddam, members of the elite Republican Guard or secret policemen.

The discovery of the weapons was a high point in a generally disappointing effort to root out the numerous arms caches in the country.

The Iraqi army abandoned huge numbers of conventional weapons and ammunition when the war ended, and locals knew far better than the coalition forces where they were.

A black market in the materials has flourished. One trading site is in a large graveyard between Baghdad and Fallujah, where mourners sit on metal and cement benches among the neat low walls that divide funeral plots, some intoning prayers, others placing traditional olive branches and palm leaves on the graves of their loved ones.

Other supposed mourners use the large area to trade in weaponry. Potential buyers come in three two-hour shifts during the day, and the next morning, their orders are delivered.

The weapons often are handed over in a part of the graveyard where former top regime members are buried.

The professional traders often hide their loot under the chassis of Mercedes vans, and seldom are apprehended despite roadblocks and checks.

In some instances when weaponry or ordnance has been found, coalition forces have been unable to recover them because of the circumstances.

“A little kid led me to a pile of 60 millimeter mortars, stuck behind a wall next to a Baghdad school,” said a U.S. officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I called for help to remove them, but no one turned up. They were unguarded for several hours.”

Far worse, he said, was the fate of a collection of vacuum-packed rockets found submerged in a small canal running through an Iraqi field.

“The man who led me there said the insurgents were probably watching us from a distance and would collect their loot if we left.

“We called the explosives people to collect the stuff, but they didn’t turn up. I came back the next day and sure enough, the rockets were taken — no doubt by the terrorists.”

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