At least 130 suspects held in Iraq crackdown

. ( dpa ) - US-Iraqi force backed by helicopters arrested 103 suspected al-Qaeda militants in an offensive south of Baghdad while 30 suspects were rounded up in another crackdown in the capital, the Iraqi military said Friday.

US-Iraqi troops launched a large-scale operation in Latifiya, 100 kilometres south of Baghdad, to root out insurgents with links to al-Qaeda, a military source told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

An Iraqi officer was critically injured during the operation by a landmine planted by insurgents, the source said. Weapons, explosives, mortar shells and rockets were also found.

In Baghdad, Iraqi forces rounded up 30 terror suspects over the past 24 hours as part of an ongoing crackdown to clear the city of insurgents, according to an Iraqi military statement.

Five explosive belts and 11 bombs were detonated.

Earlier, the Iraqi authorities announced they had arrested a gang that was planning to smuggle hundreds of valuable historical items looted from a Shiite Muslim shrine, which was destroyed in bombings blamed on Sunni extremists.

Hundreds of artefacts, including swords, shields, jewels and antique copies of the Koran, were seized during a security raid in which members of the gang were captured, according to al-Arabiya TV.

Authorities said the items were stolen from the al-Askari shrine in Samarra, 118 kilometres north of Baghdad.

A series of bombings in February 2006 and June 2007, believed to have been carried out by Sunni insurgents with links to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, led to the destruction of the revered golden- domed shrine.

The attacks proved a watershed, engulfing the country in a wave of sectarian killing.

Mahmud al-Dahwi, an alleged plotter of last year's bombings, which toppled the twin minarets of the shrine, was arrested, state-owned al-Iraqya TV reported Thursday quoting a security official.

General Rashid Filih, the commander of operations in Samarra, told al-Iraqiya TV that al-Dahwi was "the mastermind" behind the bombings.

The shrine of the Shiite imams al-Hadi and al-Askari was built in the 10th and 11th centuries. dpa sf gma ch

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