- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 25, 2004

BAGHDAD — American troops said yesterday they had uncovered the largest weapons cache to date in Fallujah, where Iraqi officials said more than 2,000 people died in the weeklong U.S.-led offensive aimed at curbing the insurgency so that elections could be held nationwide.

The Fallujah siege angered many in the influential Sunni minority, producing calls to boycott the vote, a move that could cost the new government much-needed legitimacy.

The weapons cache, described by the U.S. military as the largest uncovered so far in Fallujah, was discovered Wednesday in the Saad Bin Abi Waqas Mosque, where fugitive rebel leader Abdullah al-Janabi often preached.

Troops found small arms, artillery shells, heavy machine guns, and anti-tank mines inside the mosque, the U.S. military said.

U.S. forces also uncovered what may have been a mobile bomb-making factory as well as mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, launchers, and parts of surface-to-air weapons systems elsewhere in the mosque compound, the military added.

At a press conference in Baghdad, National Security Adviser Qassem Dawoud said troops found the suspected chemical lab in the southwestern district of Fallujah, where pockets of insurgents are still holding out following the Nov. 8 U.S.-Iraqi assault.

“We also found in the laboratory manuals and instructions spelling out procedures for making explosives,” he said. “They also spoke about making anthrax.”

Mr. Dawoud showed pictures of a shelf containing what he said were various chemicals — about two dozen glass and plastic bottles, as well as plastic sacks full of some powdered substance labeled potassium cyanide in Arabic.

One of the pictures showed a row of plastic-covered computer terminals and chairs.

Mr. Dawoud also said a key aide of Al Qaeda-linked terror boss Abu Musab Zarqawi, who was believed to have been based in Fallujah, had been arrested in Mosul, where insurgents rose up this month in support of the Fallujah fighters.

Mr. Dawoud identified him only as Abu Saeed and did not say whether he had fled Fallujah. The Iraqi official said the death toll for the entire Fallujah operation stood at more than 2,085, although he gave no breakdown. About 54 U.S. troops were among those killed.

Meanwhile, leading Sunni Muslim politicians urged postponement of the Jan. 30 national elections, and a senior official said the government had agreed to meet outside the country with Saddam Hussein supporters to try to convince them to abandon the insurgency.

Sunni politician Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and a member of the Iraqi National Council, said that delaying the vote by three months or more would enable political leaders to convince Sunni clerics and others to abandon their boycott call.

“I think that it will not be in the interest of anyone to let large segments of the Iraqi population be completely left out of the political process,” said Mr. Pachachi, leader of the Iraqi Independent Democrats party.

Seven other Sunni parties also demanded a delay of the election, saying they want guarantees that they would not be marginalized in any new government expected to be dominated by rival Shi’ites.

In a bid toward drawing Sunni support, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said an Iraqi delegation would meet in Amman, Jordan, with “a number of political opposition movements,” including some former Saddam supporters on the “most wanted list,” to convince them to abandon the insurgency and take part in the election.

No date for the meeting with former Ba’ath Party figures was announced, and Mr. Zebari did not say who would attend, although he ruled out contacts with “terrorists.”

He said the meeting was encouraged by Arab governments at this week’s international conference on Iraq at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik.

It appeared that the contacts were aimed at trying to strike a deal with “nationalist” opposition groups and dividing them from religious extremists such as Zarqawi, a Jordanian.

However, a statement posted yesterday on an Islamist Web site and purportedly from the Ba’ath Party criticized the Sharm el Sheik conference for meddling in Iraq’s affairs.

It vowed that “the Iraqi armed resistance” would keep fighting “to expel the [American] occupation” and “destroy the agent authority,” meaning the Iraqi government.

The authenticity of the statement could not be determined, but it was written in a style routinely used by the party.

Many Sunni Arabs fear that the Shi’ites, estimated to form about 60 percent of Iraq’s nearly 26 million people, will dominate the new government. Sunni Arabs make up an estimated 20 percent of Iraq’s total population and form the core of the insurgency.

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