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Deadline for Iraqi weapons amnesty passes

Civilians may still possess 'light arms,' including AK-47s

A U.S. soldier keeps guard outside the Interior Ministry office in Baghdad on Saturday.
A U.S. soldier keeps guard outside the Interior Ministry office in Baghdad on Saturday.

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(CNN) -- The deadline for Iraqis to turn in unauthorized weapons, as mandated in a U.S.-crafted program, passed Saturday at midnight Baghdad time [4 p.m. EDT], ending the two-week amnesty period during which armed civilians will not face criminal charges.

L. Paul Bremer, the head of the U.S.-led coalition's provisional authority, issued the weapons edict in late May to curtail the number of weapons in Iraq and improve security.

Unauthorized weapons are defined as certain automatic firearms, machine guns; antitank, antiaircraft, indirect-fire and self-propelled weapons; armored vehicles and explosives. Iraqis may keep "light arms," including AK-47 rifles, in their homes and shops.

Since March 19, 185 U.S. troops and 37 British troops have been killed in the war against Iraq and its aftermath, for a total of 222 coalition troops killed.

Friday, a group of Iraqis north of Baghdad ambushed a U.S. tank patrol and ignited a battle that left 27 Iraqis dead.

A statement from U.S. Central Command said attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades at the 4th Infantry Division patrol in Balad. The tanks returned fire, killing four attackers and forcing the rest to flee, the statement said.

Tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, backed by Apache helicopters, pursued the attackers, killing another 23, according to Central Command.

A conflicting account emerged Saturday of the U.S. response in Balad. Villagers said U.S. forces fired randomly and intensely throughout the area and killed an elderly farmer, his three sons and a grandson in their field in Khazraj.

U.S. troops killed the farmer and his family during the ensuing pursuit, villagers said, and later U.S. forces returned to Khazraj and apologized for the civilian deaths.

This week near Balad, U.S. forces conducted a wide-ranging mission -- called Operation Peninsula Strike, capturing almost 400 suspected Iraqi fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein's former regime.

In a separate operation, U.S. troops were battling suspected Saddam loyalists at what U.S. military officials called a terrorist training camp west of Baghdad.

Pentagon officials said the camp was being used by extremist or "foreign" fighters who have come from outside Iraq to try to destabilize U.S. efforts in the country.

An attack helicopter flies low during an operation to capture Saddam loyalists.

The assault began Wednesday with a coordinated airstrike, according to Central Command, and a firefight followed involving ground forces, including members of the 101st Airborne Division.

U.S. forces have been working to wipe out pockets of resistance blamed for attacks that have killed 35 U.S. troops since U.S. President George W. Bush announced the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1, according to Pentagon officials. (Full story)

On Thursday, the 173rd Airborne Brigade apprehended what Central Command said were 74 suspected al Qaeda sympathizers after a raid near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

"I see no evidence that there is any national command and control with the activities going on now," said Lt. Gen. David McKiernan during a videoconference from Iraq to reporters at the Pentagon.

Other developments

• Another member of the deposed regime has been taken into coalition custody, according to a U.S. military official in Washington on Saturday. Hamid Raja Shalah al-Tikriti was captured in recent days, according to Central Command. Shalah was the commander of the Iraqi air force and is No. 17 on Central Command's list of 55 Most Wanted Iraqis. He is the 10 of spades in the U.S. military's deck of cards that includes photographs and descriptions of former regime members sought.

• A detainee was killed and seven others were wounded -- two critically -- during an attempted escape Friday from the Abu Garhib prison complex, Central Command said Saturday. One guard suffered minor injuries.

• In a sign that Iraq might be becoming less dangerous, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved applications Friday of three U.S. airlines to provide air service to the country. Northwest Airlines, World Airways and Kalitta Air still must be cleared to fly to Iraq by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, the Department of Defense and other federal agencies, according to a statement on the Department of Transportation's Web site. (Full story)

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