U.S. and Iraqi forces have seized a large weapons cache that includes parts for sophisticated roadside bombs that are believed to originate in Iran, U.S. military investigators said.
Military officials said that the arsenal is one of the biggest found north of the Iraqi capital and contains components for so-called EFPs — explosively formed projectiles that fire a slug of molten metal that can penetrate armored vehicles.
The U.S. military has said elite Iranian corps are funneling EFPs to Shiite militias in Iraq for use against American troops.
Earlier this month, U.S. officials showed reporters in Baghdad pieces of EFPs they said were directly traceable to Iran.
An informant tipped off Iraqi police to the weapons stash Saturday, the military said in a statement. It was discovered near Baqouba, the provincial capital of Diyala province, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.
A military official declined to link the weapons to any particular militant group, but said the cache was found near a village where the Mehdi Army militia of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are strong.
Along with the EFPs, the weapons cache contained more than two dozen mortars and 15 rockets. There were enough metal disks to make 130 EFPs, the military said.
The origin of the weapons seized Saturday was being investigated, said Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, spokesman for Multinational Division-North.
"This local tip led to what is the most potentially lethal IED cache seized in northern Iraq in the past eight months," Donnelly said.
The weapons were discovered under tarpaulins and in two large freezers and a water tank buried in a palm grove. One completed bomb was found as well as around 150 copper discs — the key component of EFPs — rolls of electrical wire, plastic pipes to use as casings, ball-bearings and batteries.
One U.S. official said the use of a narrow tube attached to the bomb as a simple sighting-device to aim it was characteristic of Iranian-linked devices used by militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon in recent years.
Last week, U.S. troops found a suspected Shiite weapons hideout in the southern city of Hilla that also included parts to make the lethal roadside bombs. A statement from the U.S. military Monday said that 63 weapons caches have been discovered during major U.S.-Iraqi security sweeps around Baghdad that began Feb. 14. The arsenals included anti-aircraft weapons, armor-piercing bullets, bomb components and mortar rounds, the statement said.