Weapons stash found in Hussein's tribal hometown

Cemetery in Tikrit used to hide grenades, missiles

War in Iraq

April 17, 2003|By Paul Salopek | Paul Salopek,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TIKRIT, Iraq - American troops have uncovered huge weapons caches in Saddam Hussein's tribal hometown of Tikrit in recent days, a discovery that bolsters the theory that the deposed president may have planned his last stand there.

U.S. troops patrolling through the town cemetery on Tuesday stumbled across a huge system of bunkers and trenches among the graves that held ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades and SAM 6 and SAM 7 surface-to-air missiles.

Earlier this week, 50,000 rifles and rocket launchers - many still in their crates - were uncovered in unused patient wards at the local military hospital.

"Saddam was probably banking on arming the local population," said Lt. Col. Duffy White, commander of the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion of the 1st Marine Division in Tikrit. "He would have been surrounded by all his loyal clan people."

Hussein's clan, the al-Tikritis, enjoyed widespread privileges under his regime. The Iraqi leader filled many of his key security posts with relatives from this town 100 miles north of Baghdad.

The scale of the cemetery complex took U.S. Marines by surprise. "We've run into arms caches in schools and hospitals before, but this really takes the cake," said Staff Sgt. Eric Baker. "We found missiles, bunkers full of ammo and enough RPG [rocket-propelled grenades] to outfit an America battalion."

Baker said anti-aircraft guns protected the complex, and fighting holes and trenches had been dug between graves at the central Muslim cemetery, which is near a mosque.

"It's going to take a couple of hundred guys to bring all that stuff out," Baker said.

The cemetery, which is surrounded by a high wall and is in downtown Tikrit, was closed yesterday while military investigators swept through the site.

Paul Salopek writes for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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