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Bomb material found in raid

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq, at a meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, left, promised progress on legislation aimed at promoting national unity. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

BAGHDAD -- US and Iraqi forces yesterday raided a lollipop factory being used to make bombs, finding boxes of explosives and 2 tons of fertilizer in the basement of the facility in northern Iraq, an Iraqi officer said.

The entry room to the al-Arij factory was booby-trapped, and the building was empty because the workers fled after apparently being tipped off to the raid, according to the officer, army commander Brigadier General Nour al-Din Hussein. He said an antiaircraft gun was hidden on the roof.

Hussein, commander of Iraq's fourth Brigade, said the Christian owner of the lollipop factory was killed three years ago.

He said the facility was currently rented to people whom police refused to identify for security reasons.

The troops, who found candy boxes filled with explosives, oxygen cylinders, and 2 tons of fertilizer in the basement, spent three hours destroying the payload in controlled blasts in an industrial area of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

The discovery illustrated the challenges faced by US and Iraqi troops trying to stop the unrelenting violence by insurgents.

A senior US envoy met with Iraq's leader yesterday in Baghdad at a time when the Americans are pressing the Shi'ite-led government to show progress on political reforms to bring the disaffected Sunni minority into the political process and stem support for the insurgency.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki assured Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte that his administration would persist in its efforts to pass a controversial oil law as well as a bill allowing former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party to return to government jobs and join the military.

"A lot of missions are ahead of us, on top of them is developing our security forces to handle their national roles in fighting the Al Qaeda terrorist group, Saddamists, and militias to impose law and order in all the country," Maliki told Negroponte as the two men sat on gilded chairs in the prime minister's office in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.

US and Iraqi officials have pinned their hopes on the adoption of the laws as well as a nearly 4-month-old security crackdown to quell sectarian attacks, but Iraq's fractured political parties have failed to reach final agreement on any of them.

The New York Times reported yesterday that Admiral William Fallon, the top US commander in the Middle East, warned Maliki on Sunday that the Iraqi government needs to make tangible political progress by next month to counter growing congressional opposition to the war.