BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iranian-made weapons were among a large cache of arms and ammunition found during operations in a Shi‘ite militia stronghold south of Baghdad, the Iraqi army said on Monday.
Major-General Jamil Kamel al-Shimari, a senior officer in the 8th Iraqi Army Division, said the cache was the biggest store of weapons found since the launch of Operation Lion Pounce on Saturday.
The stockpile, which included roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar bombs and explosives, was uncovered in Diwaniya, 180 km (110 miles) south of Baghdad.
Four suspected militants were arrested at the scene, among 74 who have been detained since the operation began.
“All of their hands are bloodied,” Shimari said.
“There are seven Iranian-made roadside bombs and nine anti-tank mines. These are a big danger threatening our forces,” Shimari told reporters.
U.S. military officials accuse Iran of arming and training Shi‘ite militias in Iraq, a charge Tehran denies.
Iran in turn blames the violence in Iraq, in which tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, on the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Some Washington and U.S. embassy officials in Iraq have noted recent improvements in Iran’s involvement in Iraq but the U.S. military says Iranian weapons and components are still being found in Iraq.
U.S. and Polish helicopters and soldiers supported Iraqi security forces in the Diwaniya operation, Polish military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Wlodzimierz Glogowski said.
The operation, which Glogowski said included two Iraqi army battalions and one police brigade, is trying to squeeze militants out of the area.
Qadisiya province, of which Diwaniya is the capital, has been spared much of the sectarian bloodshed that has rocked other parts of Iraq.
But it has been hit hard by factional fighting between rival Shi‘ite militias, including the feared Mehdi Army loyal to influential anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Shi‘ite militants have attacked military bases, including those used by about 900 Polish troops in Qadisiya.
(Reporting by Imad al-Khozaie and Waleed Ibrahim; Writing by
Missy Ryan; Editing by Paul Tait)