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Rockets Deactivated Near Iraqi City

U.S. and Iraqi forces deactivated several rockets on a road, primed for launch toward a city north of Baghdad, and four people were arrested elsewhere with manuals showing how to make bombs, officials said Monday.

The rockets were found on a road near Diyala University (search) outside Baqouba, and were ready to be fired toward the city, a U.S. Army captain said on condition of anonymity.

Baqouba is 35 miles north of Baghdad and part of the so-called Sunni Triangle (search), the stronghold of insurgents from the former regime of Saddam Hussein. The official gave no other details including the number or type of the rockets or how they were to be launched.

U.N. experts met with Iraqi leaders Sunday for the first time to discuss the chances of holding early elections, a bone of contention between the United States and the influential Shiite clergy.

On Sunday, Japan expanded its first military deployment to a combat zone since World War II. Britain's Prince Charles paid a surprise visit to British troops in Iraq before traveling to Iran, becoming the first British royal in that country since the fall of the Iranian monarchy in 1979.

On Sunday, Iraqi police arrested Sunday four people in an area about 35 miles west of Kirkuk (search) who were found traveling in a car with maps identifying military and other targets. They also had a manual for making explosive devices, said Hadi Mohammed Moustafa, a local civil administration official.

U.S. also soldiers exchanged fire with a group of gunmen outside the house of a suspected insurgent in Qadisiyah, 30 miles south of Tikrit, killing one attacker. The dead assailant turned out to have been an active Iraqi police major, the U.S. military said.

Two other assailants were wounded and two were captured, the military said.

The U.S.-led occupation authorities have over the past 10 months hurriedly recruited and trained about 150,000 Iraqis to serve in police, army and other security forces in preparation for handing back power to a sovereign government by July 1.

But the swift buildup of security forces has led to holes in the process of weeding out Saddam loyalists and insurgency sympathizers.

The transfer of power is becoming a major headache for the U.S.-led coalition and the U.S.-installed Governing Council.

The current U.S. plan is to choose legislators in regional caucuses, a move opposed by the country's most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani.

A U.N. team led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy, which arrived in Iraq Saturday, held talks with Iraqi leaders Sunday on ways to resolve the impasse.

"The United Nations can only confirm its unwavering desire to do everything possible to help the Iraqi people with all its sects and components to come out of its long ordeal and regain their independence, sovereignty and to rebuilt Iraq," team leader Lakhdar Brahimi (search) told reporters.

U.N. and Iraqi officials refused to give details of the talks. But Iraqi sources said on condition of anonymity that the initial session was taken up mostly by Governing Council members expressing their views on elections.

Brahimi is expected to travel to the Shiite holy city of Najaf to meet al-Sistani sometime during the 10-day visit.

During Sunday's talks, Sunni Muslim Arabs on the council echoed the U.S. view that early elections were not practical because of the need for extensive preparations to ensure a fair and credible ballot.

Most of the Shiite members favored an early vote, arguing that sufficient data was available to guarantee an acceptable election.

"The Sunni Arabs fear that an early election will be dominated by the Shiites," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish council member opposing an early vote.

The Sunni fears arise in part from the minority community's disarray since the overthrow of Saddam, whose downfall ended decades of Sunni privilege at the expense of the country's Shiite majority and sizable Kurdish community.

The New York Times reported Monday that American officials in Baghdad have obtained a detailed proposal that they believe was written by an operative in Iraq to senior leaders of Al Qaeda, asking for help to wage a "sectarian war" between Shiites and Sunnis in the next months.

The Americans believe the undated 17-page document was written by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who has long been under scrutiny by the United States for suspected ties to Al Qaeda, the Times said.

In Samawah, a heavily armored convoy of Japanese soldiers arrived Sunday as part of Tokyo's first military deployment in a hostile region since 1945.

The ground troops, mostly engineers, lead a deployment that will eventually reach about 800 soldiers in a humanitarian mission to improve water supplies and other infrastructure projects around Samawah. Another 200 soldiers will remain in Kuwait.