BAGHDAD -- US and Iraqi forces searching Iraq's western province of Anbar yesterday uncovered a network of bunkers hidden in a vast underground quarry and equipped with air conditioning, food and a wide assortment of weapons, a Marine spokesman said.
The quarry, near the town of Karmah, was as long as three football fields and had been separated into rooms that apparently had housed insurgents, the spokesman, Captain Jeffrey Pool, said in a statement.
''Within the various rooms making up the facility, Iraqi security and coalition forces discovered four fully furnished living spaces, a kitchen with fresh food, two shower facilities, and a working air conditioner," Pool said.
The weapons stored in the facility included mortars, artillery shells, and rockets, according to Pool, who added that night-vision goggles, cellphones, and ski masks also were found.
Over three days, Pool said, combined US and Iraqi forces assigned to the 2nd Marine Division discovered about 50 caches of arms and ammunition in Anbar.
The province has long been a stronghold of the Iraqi insurgency and a conduit for bringing foreign guerrillas into the heart of the country. One month ago, the Marines mounted an assault in far western Anbar aimed at wiping out foreign insurgents there and their means of support.
Also yesterday, , an Iraqi believed to be a terrorist leader in northern Iraq, Mullah Mahdi, was captured by US and Iraqi forces in Mosul. Mahdi was detained with his brother, three other Iraqis, and a non-Iraqi Arab who was not otherwise identified, after a brief clash in eastern Mosul, said Major General Khalil Ahmed al-Obeidi of the Iraqi army.
Elsewhere, the violence that has claimed more than 800 lives in little more than a month subsided yesterday. .
In Ninevah province, local authorities, leaders of varied clans, police, and US military officials negotiated an agreement designed to halt fighting in the town of Tal Afar.
A scene of frequent clashes between insurgents and US forces for two years, Tal Afar recently has been roiled by conflict between Sunni and Shi'ite inhabitants. That apparently reflects growing sectarian strife in Iraq since a Shi'ite-led government was installed at the end of April.
Ninevah's deputy governor, Khisro Goran, said afterward that the groups had publicly acknowledged the presence of insurgents in the town, and had agreed that Shi'ites and Sunnis should not fight over religion. If the agreement is not honored, Goran said, the only recourse would be a major incursion by security forces.
In Erbil, part of the Kurdish-populated northeast, the regional assembly elected in January held its first session.
Kamal Karkukly, who was elected deputy speaker of the assembly, called the session a ''step to unify the Kurdistan people, and reinforce its stands on federalism." Kurds battled the government of Saddam Hussein to gain independence, but after Hussein was overthrown two years ago, many prominent Kurdish leaders have said they may support remaining part of Iraq if a suitable federal system can be forged.
Meanwhile, Iraqi soldiers took the lead in a sweep with US forces of farmsteads and fields in an area south of Baghdad known for its deadly insurgent attacks, and called the Triangle of Death. The Iraqis stood up well in blistering heat that neared 110 degrees, but a commander balked at sending his men into a particularly dangerous area, forcing the US soldiers to conduct follow-up missions, according to an account of the operation by the Associated Press.
The joint force of hundreds of soldiers, backed by US air power, said it had rounded up at least 108 Iraqis suspected of involvement in the brutal campaign of insurgent suicide attacks designed to topple the Shi'ite-led government.
The US-Iraqi offensive in Latifiyah, 20 miles south of the capital, was part of Operation Lightning, a crackdown that began a week ago. It is aimed at crushing the insurgency in the Baghdad region and at sapping militants' strength nationwide. The operation was under close scrutiny as a bellwether of the Iraqis' ability to take control of their own security, a key part of the U.S. exit strategy from the country more than two years after Saddam Hussein's ouster. While the sweep though the semi-rural Latifiyah area put Iraqi forces in the forefront, it was clear the US military was still the driving force.
About two hours into the operation, for example, US soldiers said they were worried some fields with stands of tall grass had not been searched. An Iraqi commander said he feared for his men because the fields provide cover for insurgents.
''This is a dangerous area. We need helicopters and the American army," said Iraqi Brigadier General Najim al-Ekabi.
The US soldiers, who had spent months training Iraqi soldiers in other units, tried to persuade Ekabi to send his troops, saying it was likely that weapons were hidden in the fields and alongside an irrigation canal.
Captain Jason Blindauer of the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division of the US Army told Ekabi they had orders to search the area.
''I'd like you to take advantage of this opportunity. No one is going to do it better than your group," the AP quoted Blindauer as having told his Iraqi counterpart. Ekabi asked for a private meeting with the Americans and departed shortly afterward in a large convoy of men, ostensibly to conduct the search. The US division's Major Ronny Echelberger later went into the area with US forces and searched a few homes, saying he wasn't sure the Iraqis had been thorough.
''I wasn't really confident that [the Iraqis] went through the entire area," Echelberger said, although some area residents reported brief visits by Iraqi soldiers. ''My guess was that it really wasn't that thorough since they were only out about two hours."
The Iraqi army's reliance on US troops was evident in other ways. Echelberger had to show an Iraqi brigade commander his location on a map shortly before Iraqi troops launched the operation, and a few minutes later Iraqi soldiers fired hundreds of rounds when they mistakenly thought they saw an insurgent.
''These guys are doing baptism by fire. It takes time," Blindauer said. Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said at least 700 suspected insurgents were rounded up in Operation Lightning so far, and at least 28 militants were killed. US Lieutenant Colonel Michael Infanti said at least 221 people had been detained since Wednesday by forces carrying out a sweep of Baghdad's southern districts. It was unclear if that number was in addition to the 700 listed by Jabr.
In another development, Raid Juhi, the judge leading the trial of Saddam Hussein, said the former dictator's morale has plummeted because of the gravity of the war crimes charges he faces.
Juhi was quoted as saying in an interview in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that 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."
Hussein's lawyer, Khalil al-Duleimi, however, said that his client was in high spirits. ''The last time I met Saddam was in late April and his spirits were very high," Duleimi said.
Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.