14 die in Iraq chopper crash


Summary

Fourteen US soldiers have been killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash during a night mission in northern Iraq, but the military said it didn't suspect hostile fire.

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The UH-60 helicopter went down before dawn in the Tamim province that surrounds Kirkuk, an oil-rich city 290 kilometres north of Baghdad, said Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, a military spokesman in northern Iraq.

He declined to be more specific about the location of the crash but said the facts gathered thus far indicated it was almost certainly due to a mechanical problem and not hostile fire, although the final cause remained under investigation.

The Black Hawk was one of two helicopters and had just picked up troops after a mission when it crashed, Donnelly said.

The four crew members and 10 passengers who perished were assigned to Task Force Lightning, but the military did not release further information about their identities pending notification of relatives.

The US military relies heavily on helicopters to avoid the threat of ambushes and roadside bombs – the deadliest weapon in the militants' arsenal – and dozens have crashed in accidents or been shot down.

The deadliest crash occurred in January 2005, when a CH-53 Sea Stallion transport helicopter went down in a sandstorm in western Iraq, killing 31 US troops.

Another US soldier was killed and three injured during fighting west of Baghdad, the military said separately.

The US deaths raise to at least 3,722 members of the US military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to a count by the Associated Press news agency.

A series of bombings struck Iraqi security forces elsewhere in the north as at least 63 people were killed or found dead nationwide, including 27 who perished in a suicide truck bombing against a police station in the oil hub of Beiji.

Maliki hits back at critics

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, lashed out at American criticism over his government's inability to bridge political divisions or stop the violence, warning he could "find friends elsewhere" after a US senator called for his ouster.

Although he won a new endorsement from US President George W. Bush, his remarks signalled a fraying relationship with the US just over three weeks before a pivotal progress report on Iraq must be presented to US Congress.

Mr Maliki's sharp response came two days after US Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said the Shi'ite leader should be ousted and replaced with a less sectarian leader.

"No one has the right to place timetables on the Iraq government. It was elected by its people," Mr Maliki said at a news conference in Damascus as he wrapped up a three-day visit to Syria.

"Those who make such statements are bothered by our visit to Syria. We will pay no attention. We care for our people and our constitution and can find friends elsewhere," Mr Maliki said.

He blamed the US presidential campaign for the recent tough words from the American politicians.


Fourteen US soldiers have been killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash during a night mission in northern Iraq, but the military said it didn't suspect hostile fire.

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The UH-60 helicopter went down before dawn in the Tamim province that surrounds Kirkuk, an oil-rich city 290 kilometres north of Baghdad, said Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, a military spokesman in northern Iraq.

He declined to be more specific about the location of the crash but said the facts gathered thus far indicated it was almost certainly due to a mechanical problem and not hostile fire, although the final cause remained under investigation.

The Black Hawk was one of two helicopters and had just picked up troops after a mission when it crashed, Donnelly said.

The four crew members and 10 passengers who perished were assigned to Task Force Lightning, but the military did not release further information about their identities pending notification of relatives.

The US military relies heavily on helicopters to avoid the threat of ambushes and roadside bombs – the deadliest weapon in the militants' arsenal – and dozens have crashed in accidents or been shot down.

The deadliest crash occurred in January 2005, when a CH-53 Sea Stallion transport helicopter went down in a sandstorm in western Iraq, killing 31 US troops.

Another US soldier was killed and three injured during fighting west of Baghdad, the military said separately.

The US deaths raise to at least 3,722 members of the US military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to a count by the Associated Press news agency.

A series of bombings struck Iraqi security forces elsewhere in the north as at least 63 people were killed or found dead nationwide, including 27 who perished in a suicide truck bombing against a police station in the oil hub of Beiji.

Maliki hits back at critics

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, lashed out at American criticism over his government's inability to bridge political divisions or stop the violence, warning he could "find friends elsewhere" after a US senator called for his ouster.

Although he won a new endorsement from US President George W. Bush, his remarks signalled a fraying relationship with the US just over three weeks before a pivotal progress report on Iraq must be presented to US Congress.

Mr Maliki's sharp response came two days after US Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said the Shi'ite leader should be ousted and replaced with a less sectarian leader.

"No one has the right to place timetables on the Iraq government. It was elected by its people," Mr Maliki said at a news conference in Damascus as he wrapped up a three-day visit to Syria.

"Those who make such statements are bothered by our visit to Syria. We will pay no attention. We care for our people and our constitution and can find friends elsewhere," Mr Maliki said.

He blamed the US presidential campaign for the recent tough words from the American politicians.