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updated 8/18/2006 7:00:10 AM ET 2006-08-18T11:00:10

Gunmen attacked a convoy of civilian trucks Friday, killing one guard, and a cache of arms was seized in a Baghdad mosque, officials said. Security forces detained 77 people across Iraq in a crackdown on sectarian and political extremists.

The convoy carrying unspecified goods had just left Baghdad for the northern city of Irbil when it came under attack in Taji, 10 miles north of the capital, said police Lt. Ahmed Al-Qaisi.

He said one guard riding alongside in an SUV was killed and another was injured.

Iraqi police found five bodies with gunshot wounds in Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, and a roadside bomb killed one person in Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad.

A statement by the General Command of the Armed Forces said Iraqi soldiers raided the Al-Sediq Sunni mosque in Baghdad’s Ghazaliyah neighborhood after a tip and confiscated mortar shells, a belt of explosives likely to be used by a suicide bomber, 27 wire communications sets, rocket propelled grenade launchers and magazines of bullets.

Ghazaliyah, a predominantly Sunni area, is one of the most volatile neighborhoods of Baghdad and has been targeted by Iraqi and U.S. forces in a new security crackdown in an effort to stem the sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites.

Some 12,000 additional U.S. and Iraqi forces have been sent to Baghdad to enforce peace in the capital.

The tit-for-tat attacks between the two communities since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite mosque has raised fears of an all-out civil war, and diverted resources needed to fight the 3-year-old Sunni insurgency by loyalists of Saddam Hussein.

Nationwide crackdown
Friday’s statement did not say if any arrests were made at the mosque, but listed the results of the nationwide crackdown: 77 detained in the last 24 hours including 31 people with strong evidence of terrorist activities against them.

It said the 31 included four Iraqis who were caught planting a roadside bomb south of Baghdad, five Egyptians and a man who had obtained a security clearance pass for the highly protected Green Zone, an enclosed area in Baghdad containing government headquarters and the U.S. facilities.

The security operation follows a sharp spike in violence in the country — about 3,500 Iraqis were killed in July in sectarian or political violence nationwide, the highest monthly toll for civilians since the war started in March 2003.

On Thursday, U.S. officials confirmed that 2,625 roadside bombs — directed mostly against American or Iraqi forces — exploded or were discovered before detonation in July, a sharp rise compared to 1,454 bombs in January.

The figures suggest that the Sunni Arab insurgency is gaining strength despite setbacks, including the June 7 death of al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed in a U.S. airstrike northeast of Baghdad.

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