US troops find Iranian rockets aimed at Iraq base


BAGHDAD (AFP) - The US military said its soldiers found rocket launchers armed with dozens of Iranian-made missiles aimed at one of its bases south of Baghdad.

"After several rockets hit FOB (Forward Operating Base) Hammer on July 11, the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team manoeuvred to find the source of the attack," a military statement said.

The next morning an "unmanned aerial vehicle located 46 rocket launchers in the northern section of Besmaya Range Complex aimed at FOB Hammer. Thirty-four of the launchers were armed with Iranian 107mm rockets."

The US army believes the other 12 rockets were launched at the base the day before, killing one US soldier. The military announced the death on July 12 but provided no details at the time.

US commanders frequently accuse Iran of providing weapons, training and support to armed groups in Iraq, including many of the rockets launched at Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

They have also accused Iranian special forces of using Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah fighters to train Iraqi extremists to attack US troops in Iraq.

Tehran denied the charges, blaming Iraq's woes on the United States.

In another incident on Saturday, a US air strike in Iraq's restive Diyala province killed six alleged militants who had sheltered behind women and children on the rooftop of a building.

US forces came under small arms fire during an operation in Diyala targeting a weapons dealer linked to a foreign "terrorist network," the military said.

"During the engagement, armed terrorists gathered on the roof of one building and brought several women and children to their fighting positions as human shields," the military said.

The gunmen eventually released the women and children and allowed US-led forces to move them off the battlefield, but continued to rain down small arms fire from the rooftop, prompting the ground forces to call in an air strike.

Around 10,000 US and Iraqi forces have been pressing a massive air and ground assault in Diyala since last month in a bid to flush out Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

The military claims to have killed and captured dozens of fighters, but senior US commanders have said most of the top Al-Qaeda leaders in the area fled ahead of the assault.

The military also announced the killing of a militant cell leader from a breakaway group of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia.

Said Jaffer, who led a team of 120 fighters, was shot dead on Wednesday in eastern Baghdad, the military said.

Meanwhile at least 14 people were killed in attacks across Iraq yesterday.

In an early morning raid, gunmen stormed into a house south of Baghdad and opened fire on its residents, killing eight people and wounding another three, police said.

"Insurgents raided the house of the families of two brothers, killing eight people and injuring three people," Police Lieutenant Hamza al-Yaqubi said.

The killings took place in Al-Hamyariyah village, near Hilla, 70 kilometres (40 miles) south of Baghdad in a mainly Shiite farming region. It was not immediately clear what motivated the attack.

Meanwhile, the international news and information company Reuters announced that one of its Iraqi translators was shot dead by gunmen on Wednesday.

The translator, whose name Reuters is not releasing according to the wishes of his family, was the third employee of the company to be killed this week and the seventh since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Reuters said the killing appeared to be one of the dozens of executions carried out every day in Baghdad by sectarian militias that still roam the city despite 84,000 US and Iraq troops patrolling the streets.

Two US soldiers were killed on Saturday in separate attacks involving roadside bombs, the military said, taking its total losses since the March 2003 invasion to 3,614, according to an AFP count based on Pentagon figures.

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