Police arrested 16 suspected al-Qaeda members during a security operation south of Baghdad, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior announced Sunday (February 12th).
"A special security force from the police raided an al-Qaeda stronghold in the Rasheed district, south of Baghdad, and clashed with a group of gunmen," said Maj. Gen. Adel Dahham, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior.
He said the security force called in back-up forces from the army after coming under fire, which left three policemen wounded.
The clash lasted 40 minutes, after which 16 gunmen, some of them of Arab nationalities, were arrested, he said.
Dahham told Mawtani that Iraqi forces took the suspects to a temporary detention center while an engineering team from the Iraqi army handled the process of confiscating the weapons and explosives that were found in the gunmen's possession.
He said the raid was conducted based on reports from farmers in the area, as well as members of the Iraqi Sahwa forces and tribesmen.
Lt. Col. Ali al-Gharbawi, chief of police of the Rasheed district, identified one of the suspects as Abu Khalid al-Dulaimi, "who is the prime suspect accused of blowing up the fuel station in the district in the summer of 2008, which left 45 civilians dead and wounded".
Al-Gharbawi said the detainees were planning to launch attacks on police stations and a driving school, according to maps and documents found in their possession.
Capt. Haider al-Taie, commander of the third engineering unit of the Iraqi Army's 17th division, said the quantities of explosives that the Iraqi forces found "were enough to blow up half of the town".
Al-Taie said Iraqi forces seized 23 Katyusha rockets, 19 explosive charges, 54 rifles and guns of various types, and quantities of TNT and C-4 explosives estimated at more than one and a quarter tons.
He told Mawtani that an engineering squad used police dogs to search the place to ensure it was totally free of any other explosives or weapons.
The mayor of the Rasheed district, Abdullah Serhan, called on the families of al-Qaeda victims in town to file complaints at Iraqi courts in order for justice to take its course.
Serhan said the names of the detainees will be released as soon as the interrogation is completed.
A number of al-Rasheed district residents welcomed the news of the arrests.
"We see noticeable progress by the security forces in our district," said Mazen Abed, 32.
"If it were not for the support shown by the area residents and the tribesmen in informing on the gunmen, [the terrorists] would have stayed longer," Abed said.
Firas Ahmad, 40, said, "We wish to see the day when the total destruction of al-Qaeda would be announced not only in our area but in all parts of the country because it is still trying to destroy Iraq."