- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005

LATIFIYAH, Iraq — U.S. Marines said yesterday they had discovered a massive underground bunker complex with 50 caches of weapons and ammunition and living quarters fitted out with air conditioning, a kitchen and showers.

In the northern city of Mosul, Iraqi forces said they had arrested a key terrorist leader linked to Syrian intelligence, who was responsible for numerous beheadings and car bomb attacks.

The Marines said the bunker complex, discovered over the past four days in Anbar province west of Baghdad, included a recently used “insurgent lair” containing air-conditioned quarters and high-tech military equipment, including night-vision glasses.

The bunker was found cut from a rock quarry in Karmah, 50 miles west of Baghdad. Marines said the facility was 170 yards wide and 275 yards long.

In its rooms were “four fully furnished living spaces, a kitchen with fresh food, two shower facilities and a working air conditioner. Other rooms within the complex were filled with weapons and ammunition,” the Marines said.

The weapons included “numerous types of machine guns, ordnance including mortars, rockets and artillery rounds, black uniforms, ski masks, compasses, log books, night-vision goggles and fully charged cell phones.”

In Mosul, an Iraqi identified as Mullah Mahdi was caught along with his brother, three other Iraqis and a non-Iraqi Arab, Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Khalil Ahmed al-Obeidi said.

Mahdi was affiliated with the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, one of Iraq’s most feared terrorist groups, and had links to the Syrian intelligence service, Gen. al-Obeidi said without elaborating.

Iraqi and U.S. officials have accused Syria of facilitating the insurgency by allowing foreign fighters to cross its borders. Damascus denies the charges.

Mahdi was wanted in connection with car bombings, assassinations, “beheadings of Iraqi policemen and soldiers and for launching attacks against multinational forces,” in Mosul, Gen. al-Obeidi said.

Elsewhere, 19 suspected insurgents — including a Jordanian and a Syrian — were arrested in raids in Baghdad’s western Abu Ghraib district, Iraqi Lt. Col. Abu Fahad Alkhasali said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Iraqi and U.S. troops searched fields and farms yesterday for insurgents and their hide-outs in an area south of Baghdad.

A joint U.S.-Iraqi force operating in Latifiyah to the south was backed by American air power and said it had rounded up at least 108 Iraqis, mainly Sunnis, suspected of involvement in the brutal insurgent campaign to topple the Shi’ite-led government.

The raids near Latifiyah were part of Operation Lightning, a week-old assault aimed at rooting out insurgents conducting raids on the capital and sapping militant strength nationwide.

Also yesterday, a suicide car bomber blew himself up at an Iraqi police checkpoint on a main road connecting northern Mosul with the nearby city of Tal Afar, killing two officers and wounding four. Four others were hurt in a roadside bombing as they went to help their fallen colleagues, Mosul police Lt. Zaid Ahmed Shakir said.

In another development, an Iraqi judge trying Saddam Hussein said the former dictator’s morale has plummeted as the gravity of the war-crimes charges he faces sinks in.

Judge Raid Juhi told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in an interview: “The ousted president has suffered a collapse in his morale because he understands the extent of the charges against him and because he’s certain that he will stand trial before an impartial court.”

No date has been set for the start of the trial, but Judge Juhi said the former dictator was expected to face the tribunal within two months.

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