Iraqi insurgent group 'manufacturing own rockets'

A top Iraqi insurgent leader today claimed in an audiotape posted online that his al-Qaida-linked group had begun manufacturing its own rockets.

A top Iraqi insurgent leader today claimed in an audiotape posted online that his al-Qaida-linked group had begun manufacturing its own rockets.

The voice was said to be that of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq.

The tape was posted on an Islamic website frequently used by militant groups, but its authenticity could not be independently verified.

The rockets - called al-Quds-1, or Jerusalem-1 - "have moved into the phase of military production with an advanced degree of range and accuracy", al-Baghdadi said, without elaborating.

Insurgents in Iraq have used a range of Soviet-era rockets like Katyushas, and shoulder-fired ground-to-air Sam-7 missiles - most of which were looted from Saddam Hussein's massive depots in the lawless days and weeks that followed the collapse of his regime.

Recently, the US has accused Iran of funnelling Iranian-made weapons to insurgents in Iraq - mostly to Shiite militias but to some Sunnis as well.

Hundreds of residents of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, crowded into a huge tent erected today in front of the governor's office for the start of a three-day sit-in to demand the official's resignation.

"This governor is a hypocrite. We want him to come out!" the angry mob shouted. "We demand the Basra governor resign," read a banner hung from the tent. Gov. Mohammed al-Waili was not believed to be in the building at the time.

The peaceful sit-in came a day after thousands of people paraded from a downtown mosque to al-Waili's office in a demonstration that defied orders from Baghdad officials. Residents of Basra, 340 miles south-east of Baghdad, have long complained of poor city services - rubbish collection, water and electricity.

But demands for al-Waili's ouster were thought to be political as well. He is a member of a rival Shiite faction to that of Muqtada al-Sadr, the rebellious but extremely popular cleric that commands tremendous influence over Iraq's majority Shiites.

On Monday, al-Sadr's six ministers quit the Iraqi Cabinet to protest Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's refusal to back calls for a timetable for US withdrawal.

The move severed al-Sadr's ties to the US-backed prime minister and raised fears his Mahdi Army militia might again confront American troops.

The political drama was not likely to bring down al-Maliki's government, but it highlighted growing demands among Iraqi politicians and voters that US troops leave their country.

The deputy chief of Mosul police was killed in a drive-by shooting today in the city's southern Thwara neighbourhood.

Col Abdul-Karim Mahmoud al-Bachari died after gunmen in two cars showered him with bullets, said police Brig Mohammed al-Wagga. Two of al-Bachari's guards were also killed, al-Wagga said.

Also in Mosul, a roadside bomb apparently targeting a US patrol killed one civilian instead, al-Wagga said. Clashes were also reported near Sabreen mosque in eastern Mosul, but there was no immediate word on casualties.

The violence in Mosul, a mostly Sunni Muslim city 225 miles north-west of Baghdad, came a day after a university dean, a professor, a policeman's son and 13 soldiers died near there in attacks that bore the marks of al Qaida.

Nationwide, at least 51 people were killed or found dead yesterday. And the US military reported the deaths of seven more American service members: three soldiers and two Marines on Monday and two soldiers on Saturday.

Separately, a top Iraqi military spokesman said 30 containers of nitric acid were found in a raid in Baghdad's central Karradah district last Thursday.

Brig Qassim al-Moussawi said no one was arrested, and authorities were still investigating who owned the house where the chemical was found.

Eight suspected insurgents were captured early Tuesday in raids near Fallujah and Baghdad, the military said in another statement.

In other violence, a sniper killed two policemen in central Baqouba, said Ahmed Fouad of the city's morgue.

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