U.S. helicopter is shot down in Iraq

soldier on board dies

2nd American injured

troops say they were fired on by fake journalists

January 03, 2004|By Laura King | Laura King,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. Army helicopter was shot down yesterday near the volatile Sunni Muslim town of Fallujah, with one American soldier killed and another injured.

A second U.S. soldier died when a military truck flipped over near the Baghdad airport, the Army reported. Six other soldiers were hurt in the truck crash, which military officials said was under investigation.

The downing of American helicopters - from mechanical problems or hostile fire - contributed to a spike in U.S. fatalities in recent months. In the most lethal incident of the war, two Black Hawk helicopters collided over the northern city of Mosul in November after coming under fire, killing 17 soldiers.

American troops sealed off the site of yesterday's crash, a dusty plantation near the Euphrates River, then swarmed over the area, carrying out house-to-house searches and blocking off streets as assault helicopters circled overhead.

Fallujuh, a conservative, tribal-dominated community about 35 miles west of Baghdad, has been a focal point of the anti-American insurgency, which continues to simmer despite the capture Dec. 13 of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Witnesses said they saw a projectile strike the helicopter about 1 p.m. before the aircraft spiraled to the ground.

"We saw a missile hit it, and we could see that the soldiers inside were trapped," said Hussein Dari, a 25-year-old laborer in Fallujah. "It was burning, and smoke was coming from it."

U.S. military officials said later that, based on reports from the field, they believed that ground fire had downed the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior.

"They are fairly convinced that it was enemy fire," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told reporters in Baghdad, the capital.

Kimmitt said that after the helicopter crash-landed, paratroopers guarding the site were fired upon by men wearing black vests bearing the word Press. He said four assailants were captured after a car chase. But there was confusion over the report; the Reuters news agency reported that U.S. troops fired at its journalists at the scene and later detained three, according to the Associated Press.

Several local Iraqi journalists who approached the crash site said later that they, too, were picked up for questioning.

Elsewhere in the restive area west of the capital, a U.S. military convoy came under attack near the town of Ramadi with small-arms fire, together with what witnesses described as either a roadside bomb or rockets fired by insurgents.

A 5,000-gallon oil tanker in the convoy was set ablaze, sending huge clouds of black smoke billowing skyward. Three American soldiers were injured, suffering burns and shrapnel wounds, according to the Army.

In response to hit-and-run guerrilla attacks, U.S. forces have been conducting methodical raids aimed at capturing the insurgency's leaders, seizing weapons and cutting off the rebels' cash.

American officials say that, following Hussein's capture, they have been making steady progress in catching loyalists of the former regime. Yesterday, they reported the arrest a day earlier of a man known as Abu Mohammed, who was believed to have served as a conduit for weapons and funds.

His interrogation led to several further arrests and the seizure of an arms cache, they said.

But American tactics have provoked angry reactions in some quarters. A near-riot broke out outside a Baghdad mosque yesterday, the Muslim Sabbath, after an overnight raid by U.S. troops.

Kimmitt said the American forces had seized weapons and ammunition and made 32 arrests. He described the detainees as Arabs from outside Iraq. U.S. officials believe that foreign fighters play a significant role in the insurgency.

In Mosul, police reported the latest in what appear to be a series of vigilante-style revenge killings of officials placed in positions of authority by Hussein.

Violence also broke out in the northern oil center of Kirkuk, where ethnic tensions between Kurds and Arabs have been on the rise. Local police said one Kurd was killed and another wounded in a shooting attack Thursday night.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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