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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 September, 2004, 22:28 GMT 23:28 UK
Iraq mission 'nets 500 militants'
Insurgents in Talafar, northern Iraq
Insurgents in Talafar remain defiant
Some 500 Iraqis suspected of links to insurgent groups have been arrested in a major operation south of Baghdad, officials say.

Many weapons and explosives were reportedly seized in the mission, in which a dozen Iraqi police were killed.

US troops also fought rebels in Iraq's north for a second day on Sunday.

And two US troops were killed and 16 injured by a mortar attack on a US base at Balad, north of Baghdad, the US military said.

One wounded US soldier was in a serious condition, the statement added.

In other developments:

  • Reports that Saddam Hussein's top aide Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri is in custody in Iraq are denied

  • A militant group in Iraq calls for a religious ruling on whether hostage-taking is permitted

  • A roadside bomb hits a US convoy north of Baghdad. A US soldier and two Iraqi civilians are wounded, the US says

  • The body of an Egyptian hostage is found north of Tikrit, Iraqi police say

The operation in Latifiya was launched against a town notorious for bombings, kidnappings and ambushes.

According to police, none of those captured in Latifiya was foreign.

The BBC's Paul Wood in Baghdad says that may reflect the overwhelmingly domestic character of the insurgency - despite the large role always attributed to foreign al-Qaeda operatives by the coalition.

He says it suggests there is no shortage of volunteers, nor of weaponry - as anti-tank rockets, mortars and five barrels of TNT explosives are reported to have been recovered.

Operation criticised

Recently two French journalists, Christian Chesnot and George Malbrunot, were captured near Latifiya.

Attempts to secure their release have so far failed, though French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier returned from the Middle East on Sunday saying he was still optimistic.

The operation in Latifiya has been criticised in some quarters for jeopardising attempts to get the men released.

Meanwhile in the north of Iraq, in Talafar, 50km (31 miles) west of Mosul, fighting continued after the US military launched an operation against militants on Saturday.

The US says the town is a regular staging post for fighters slipping into Iraq from Syria.


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