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US copter crashes near Baghdad

June 27, 2005 18:33 IST
A US military helicopter carrying two pilots crashed north of Baghdad today, a day after a spate of suicide attacks left nearly three dozen people dead in northern Iraq.

An AH-64 Apache helicopter crashed in Mishahda, 32 miles north of the capital, an Associated Press reporter at the scene said. The helicopter was in flames on the ground. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The US military confirmed that a helicopter carrying two pilots crashed near Baghdad. The crash was under investigation and a recovery team was determining the status of the pilots, the military said.

A roadside bomb in Baghdad exploded near a police patrol at Antar Square in the capital's northern Azamiyah neighborhood, police 1st Lt. Mohammed al-Hayali said. Two people were killed, he said.

The attack followed three suicide bombers who struck a police headquarters, an army base and a hospital around Mosul on Sunday, killing 33 people in a setback to efforts to rebuild the northern city's police force that was riven by intimidation from insurgents seven months ago.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attacks in Mosul — the country's third-largest city. The claim, which was made on an Internet site used by militants, could not be verified.

The relentless carnage has killed at least 1,338 people since April 28, when Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced his Shiite-dominated government. With the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency targeting the Shiite majority, the wave of killings has raised fears of a possible civil war.

The violence has continued despite repeated crackdowns and US-led offensives on insurgent strongholds throughout the country, showing that militants have the depth and resilience to pin down a large US military contingent as well as a fledgling Iraqi security forces.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, meanwhile, said it may take as long as 12 years to defeat the insurgents. He said Iraq's security forces will have to finish the job because American and foreign troops will have left the country by then.

Rumsfeld also acknowledged that US officials have met with insurgents in Iraq, after a British newspaper reported that two recent meetings took place at a villa north of Baghdad.

Insurgent commanders "apparently came face to face'' with four American officials during meetings on June 3 and June 13 at a villa near Balad, about 40 km  north of Baghdad, The Sunday Times


When asked Sunday on NBC television's "Meet the Press'' about the report of the two meetings, Rumsfeld said, "I think there have probably been many more than that.''

He insisted the talks did not involve negotiations with al-Zarqawi and other suspected terrorists, but were rather facilitating efforts by the Shia-led government to reach out to minority Sunni Arabs. Three insurgent groups denied that any meetings had taken place.

At least 18 other people were killed in attacks elsewhere in Iraq on Sunday, including a US soldier whose convoy was hit by a roadside bomb in Baghdad and six Iraqi soldiers who were gunned down outside their base north of the capital.

Today, Iraqi police detained 48 suspected insurgents in Iskandriyah, Jibbala and Haswa in northern Hillah, police Capt. Muthana Khalid said. The three-day raid, which ended early today, took place in an area south of Baghdad, part of "Operation Lightning.'' Police also seized weapons and a potential car bomb.

The attacks in Mosul, 360  miles northwest of Baghdad, started early Sunday when a suicide bomber with explosives hidden beneath watermelons in a pickup truck slammed into a downtown police station near a market. US Army Capt. Mark Walter said 10 policemen and two civilians were killed.

Less than two hours later, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the parking lot of an Iraqi army base on Mosul's outskirts, killing 16 people, Walter said. Most of the victims were civilian workers arriving at the site, he said.

A third attacker strapped with explosives walked into Mosul's Jumhouri Teaching Hospital in the afternoon and blew himself up in a room used by police guarding the facility, killing five policemen.

An Associated Press reporter was outside the hospital when the explosion occurred. It blew a hole in a side of the building and injured some police officers outside. Smoke then began pouring out of the hole, followed by flames.

Sitting on the banks of the Tigris River, Mosul is a religious and ethnic mosaic that some see as a microcosm of Iraq. Some of Iraq's most feared terror groups — including the Ansar al-Sunnah Army and al-Qaida in Iraq — operate in the city.

Associated Press writer Ahmed al-Dulaimi contributed to this report from Mishahda.

Bushra Juhi in Baghdad
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