BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. Marines and Iraqi soldiers in western Iraq have stumbled upon what they suspect was a vast underground insurgent hide-out built into an old rock quarry - one so comfortable that it even had air conditioning.
The enormous series of bunkers had dimensions of 170 meters wide and 275 meters long (about 558 feet by 902 feet). It includes four rooms, two showers and a kitchen that was stocked with fresh food, which leads the Marines to think it was used recently.
Marines found the hide-out in a desolate area near Karma, a town 35 miles west of Fallujah, on Thursday while conducting patrols with the purpose of finding weapons caches. Yesterday, they were still exploring the site and taking inventory of their discovery.
In one of the rooms, they found a stockpile of machine guns, mortars, rockets, artillery rounds, black uniforms, ski masks, compasses, log books, night-vision goggles and fully charged cell phones.
"Marines and Iraqis were out patrolling and looking for weapons caches when out in the middle of the desert they see a lone building," Marine Lt. Kate Vandenbossche wrote in an e-mail. "They went to go and check it out. In one room, there was a large, chest-style electric freezer. The Marines moved it and found the hidden entrance to the underground quarry system."
News of the discovery of the hideout came on a relatively peaceful day when Iraqi and U.S. troops rounded up at least 108 Iraqis in the central part of the country, the Associated Press reported. They are suspected of involvement in the brutal campaign by insurgents to topple the Shiite-led government, the AP said.
Iraqi authorities in Tikrit said yesterday that five Iraqi soldiers were killed a day earlier when a suicide bomber drove his car into a checkpoint near the U.S. military base on the grounds of Saddam Hussein's former palace complex.
Maj. Richard Goldenberg, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's 42nd Infantry Division in Tikrit, said that Iraqi soldiers at the checkpoint shot at the suicide bomber but were unable to prevent the vehicle bomb from detonating.
Iraqi security forces in Mosul captured Mullah Mahdi along with his brother, three other Iraqis and a non-Iraqi Arab national, the Iraqi army's Maj. Gen. Khalil Ahmed al-Obeidi told the Associated Press. U.S. military officials in Baghdad could not confirm the arrest.
Mahdi, who is affiliated with the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, is one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq.
The Kurdish parliament convened in the northern city of Irbil for the first time yesterday. The three semi-autonomous northern provinces, which are governed by the parliament, have been largely peaceful since the start of the war more than two years ago.
Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Kurdish leaders have pressed their claims on Kirkuk, a volatile northern city sitting on an enormous oil deposit. Tens of thousands of Kurds were displaced from Kirkuk by Hussein in an attempt to keep Arabs in control of the city. Kurds make up about 20 percent of the country's population.
In his remarks before parliament yesterday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani spoke of keeping Iraq unified despite increasing sectarian strife. Talabani, a Kurd, also said that drafting a constitution that is acceptable to the country's many factions would be crucial for any chance of success.
"Our sacred task is to draft a permanent constitution that guarantees equality for all Iraqi society," Talabani said, according to Agence France-Presse.
Yesterday, members of an influential Sunni group demanded the immediate release of seven of its members who they say were unjustly arrested by U.S. and Iraqi forces Thursday
Saleh al-Mutlaq of the Iraqi National Dialogue Council charged that U.S. and Iraqi forces are using false arrests to pressure Sunni groups to throw their support behind the Iraqi government.
Last week, U.S. troops in Baghdad detained Mohsen Abdul-Hamid, the leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, for several hours before releasing him. The Iraqi Islamic Party, which sat out the national elections in January, is the leading Sunni political party in the country.
"We'd like to warn the American and Iraqi forces and the National Assembly that if these acts of random arrests continue, it will lead to the end of our patience," Mutlaq said.
In a separate development, the judge overseeing Hussein's trial told the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that Hussein appears to suffering emotionally.
"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," Judge Raid Juhi told the paper.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.