By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 21, 2007
BAGHDAD, Jan. 20 -- A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter crashed Saturday afternoon northeast of the capital, killing all 12 American soldiers on board, and at least seven soldiers died in other parts of the country, officials said. The deaths made the day the third-deadliest for U.S. service members in Iraq since the war began.
The incidents came as the Bush administration was extending the tours of some troops in Iraq and sending additional ones for a buildup that has met strong resistance in Congress. The administration has billed the increase as a key step toward securing the viability of Iraq's young government and bringing down the level of violence.
The helicopter went down about 3 p.m. in a barren area south of Baqubah in Diyala province. According to media reports, several parts of the province have come under Sunni insurgent control in recent months.
The military said the cause of the crash was under investigation.
"We can't confirm what the cause of the incident was," said Lt. Col. Josslyn L. Aberle, a military spokeswoman. "That's a big part of the investigation."
Another helicopter traveling nearby, as is standard in military operations, remained in the air awaiting backup after the crash, Aberle said. "We had aircraft support within minutes," she said. A response team landed and cordoned off the scene, Aberle said.
Navy Capt. Frank Pascual, a member of a U.S. media relations team in the United Arab Emirates, told al-Arabiya television that the helicopter was believed to have suffered technical troubles before going down, the Associated Press reported.
Arkan al-Mujamai, 28, a day laborer who lives near the crash site, said in a telephone interview that the helicopter was shot down by a group of Sunni Muslim insurgents, one of whom is his uncle.
Mujamai said six Sunni insurgents were planting roadside bombs in the area when they saw a helicopter flying low overhead. One of the insurgents shot it down with a heavy machine gun, he said. Five of the insurgents, including his uncle, were missing Saturday night, and one returned with a wound on the left side of his upper body, he said.
Mujamai has provided The Washington Post with reliable information during past interviews, but his account Saturday could not be independently verified.
According to a database on military deaths kept by The Washington Post, 164 Americans have died in helicopter crashes in Iraq during the war.
Saturday's casualties included five soldiers who were killed in the southern city of Karbala after a military facility came under attack, the military said in a statement released late Saturday. The attack was carried out by an "illegally armed militia group," which ambushed the soldiers with grenades, guns and other weapons, the statement said. Three soldiers were wounded while fighting back, it said.
Local Iraqi officials and Iraqi and U.S. military personnel are stationed at the facility, which serves as a coordination center, the military said. The attack came as the soldiers were holding a meeting to ensure the safety of Shiite pilgrims during a coming holiday.
A Multinational Division Baghdad soldier was killed Saturday by an improvised explosive device while patrolling a neighborhood in the northern part of the capital, the military said in a statement.
A Task Force Lightning soldier assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade was killed by an improvised explosive device in Nineveh province in northern Iraq. Two soldiers were injured by the explosion. Earlier in the week, the unit had arrested 12 suspected insurgents while conducting raids in northern Baghdad "to disrupt militia activities," according to the statement.
The deadly string of incidents came on the eve of the Islamic new year, which starts Sunday.
At least two other service members were killed Friday, according to statements issued by the military, including a Marine assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5 who died of injuries sustained in what the military described as "enemy action" in Anbar province in western Iraq and a soldier who died in combat in Nineveh province.
The military said the names of the service members would be released after their relatives had been notified.
Meanwhile Saturday, two men were arrested trying to sneak a car bomb into Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, the military said.
The day was also deadly for Iraqis. In Khalis, a city in Diyala province, Saad Zowanie, a local prosecutor, was killed, according to Ali Khaiyam, a Diyala police spokesman. Elsewhere in the province, eight men were killed when U.S. helicopters bombed an area northeast of Baqubah, Khaiyam said.
Brig. Gen. Sadoun Abdul Karim of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior said government forces backed by U.S. soldiers dropped from helicopters in southern Baghdad and attacked men suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda in Iraq, an insurgent group. Also in the Dura area of the capital, three Iraqi policemen were killed by a roadside bomb, the general said.
Special correspondents Naseer Nouri and Saad Sarhan in Iraq and staff researchers Magda Jean-Louis and Madonna Lebling in Washington contributed to this report.