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[casi] 13 GIs Killed As Chopper Downed in Iraq

13 GIs Killed As Chopper Downed in Iraq

By TINI TRAN, Associated Press Writer

FALLUJAH, Iraq - A U.S. Chinook helicopter believed
carrying soldiers en route home for leave was struck
by a missile and crashed west of Baghdad on Sunday,
killing 13 soldiers and wounding more than 20 others,
the U.S. command and witnesses reported.

It was the deadliest day for American troops in the
six-month-old occupation of Iraq (news - web sites).

The heavy transport helicopter was the biggest U.S.
target yet shot from the skies by Iraq's insurgents,
in a resistance campaign that has escalated in recent
days. At least one other American soldier was
confirmed killed Sunday in ground attacks here and
elsewhere in central Iraq. Witnesses described several
other U.S. deaths.

"Currently there are 13 killed in action and more than
20 wounded," the Baghdad command said in a statement
on the Chinook shootdown. It said a search was under
way at the site for possible other survivors.

Witnesses said they saw two missiles fired at the
helicopter, which came down amid cornfields near the
village of Hasi, about 40 miles southwest of Baghdad
and just south of Fallujah, a center of Sunni Muslim
resistance to the U.S. occupation.

The command said the helicopter was struck at about 9
a.m. "The Chinook was shot down by an unknown weapon,"
a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said on condition
of anonymity.

Insurgents have fired on U.S. aircraft before, downing
two helicopters, and American military officials have
repeatedly warned that hundreds of shoulder-fired
surface-to-air missiles remain unaccounted for in Iraq
since the collapse of Saddam Hussein (news - web
sites)'s regime in April.

The helicopter was part of a formation of two Chinooks
carrying a total of more than 50 passengers to the
U.S. base at the former Saddam International Airport,
renamed Baghdad International Airport, which the
military calls BIA.

"Our initial report is that they were being
transported to BIA for R&R flights," that is, rest and
recreation leaves abroad, a U.S. command spokeswoman
in Baghdad said. She said at least some were coming
from Camp Ridgway, believed to be an 82nd Airborne
Division base in western Iraq.

Someone fired two missiles from the area of a date
palm grove about 500 yards from where the stricken
copter came down, said villager Thaer Ali, 21.

Yassin Mohamed, another witness, said he ran out of
his house, a half-mile away, when he heard an
explosion. "I saw the Chinook burning. I ran toward it
because I wanted to help put out the fire, but
couldn't get near because of American soldiers."

Witnesses said the second copter hovered over the
downed craft for some minutes and then set down,
apparently to try to help extinguish a fire, but the
downed copter was destroyed.

At least a half-dozen Black Hawk helicopters later
hovered over the area, and dozens of soldiers swarmed
over the site. Injured were still being evacuated at
least two hours later. Local villagers displayed
blackened pieces of wreckage to arriving reporters.

One Iraqi in Fallujah, who wouldn't give his name,
"This was a new lesson from the resistance, a lesson
to the greedy aggressors," said one Iraqi in nearby
Fallujah, who wouldn't give his name. "They'll never
be safe until they get out of our country," he said of
the Americans.

Others were celebrating word of the helicopter downing
and also a fresh attack on U.S. soldiers in Fallujah
itself, where witnesses said an explosion struck one
vehicle in a U.S. Army convoy at about 9 a.m. Sunday.
They claimed four soldiers died, but U.S. military
sources said they couldn't confirm the report.

One Iraqi in Fallujah, who would not give his name,
said the shootdown was a "lesson" for the Americans.

In a separate incident, the U.S. command said a
soldier from the 1st Armored Division was killed just
after midnight in an explosion in Baghdad.

In Abu Ghraib, local Iraqis said U.S. troops arrived
Sunday morning and ordered people to disperse from the
marketplace and remove what the Iraqis said were
religious posters from walls. Someone then tossed a
grenade at the Americans, witnesses said, and the
soldiers opened fire.

The U.S. command said it had no immediate information,
but Iraqi witnesses said they believed three or four
Americans were killed and six to seven Iraqis were

The presence of the portable anti-aircraft missiles
has represented a significant threat for military
aircraft and raised concerns over the security of the
few commercial flights in and out of Baghdad
International Airport. The U.S.-led coalition has
offered rewards of $500 apiece to Iraqis who turn them

It was the third helicopter known to have been brought
down by Iraq's insurgents since President Bush (news -
web sites) declared an end to major combat in Iraq on
May 1.

A U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter crash-landed Oct. 25
in Tikrit after being hit by an unknown weapon,
injuring one crewmember. On June 12, a U.S. Army
Apache attack helicopter was shot down by hostile fire
in the western desert, and two crewmembers were
rescued unhurt.

The Pentagon (news - web sites) had announced Friday
it was expanding the home leave program for troops in
Iraq, to fly more soldiers out of the region each day
and take them to more U.S. airports. As of Sunday, it
said, the number of soldiers departing daily via a
transit facility in neighboring Kuwait would be
increased to 480, from 280.

The workhorse, 10-ton Chinook, which has a crew of
four, is the military's most versatile heavy-lift
helicopter, used primarily for troop movements,
transporting artillery and similar functions.

The shootdown of the Chinook came after what U.S.
occupation chief L. Paul Bremer on Saturday called "a
tough week" in Iraq, beginning with an insurgent
rocket attack on Sunday against a Baghdad hotel
housing hundreds of his Coalition Provisional
Authority staff members. One was killed and 15 wounded
in that attack.

A day later, four coordinated suicide bombings in
Baghdad killed three dozen people and wounded more
than 200, and that was followed by widespread rumors
and leaflets threatening an escalation in the
anti-U.S. resistance.

Attacks against U.S. forces had already stepped up in
the previous week, to an average of 33 a day.

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