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Copter downed; 2 Americans dead

The helicopter and another are struck by small-arms fire, but the other makes it back. And the Iraqis plan a Baghdad offensive.

Associated Press
Published May 27, 2005

BAGHDAD - Two American soldiers were killed Thursday night when their helicopter was shot down near Baghdad, while another chopper was hit but landed safely, the U.S. military said.

The two pilots were the only ones aboard their aircraft when it went down, said Capt. Patricia Brewer, a military spokeswoman in Baghdad. She said their bodies have been recovered.

Meanwhile, Iraq announced plans to deploy 40,000 police and soldiers in the capital and ring the city with hundreds of checkpoints "like a bracelet" in the largest show of Iraqi force since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

In a reminder of the difficulty Iraqi security forces face in stopping insurgent attacks, violence claimed at least 15 lives Thursday in Baghdad. In one incident, a car bomb exploded near a police patrol, killing five people and wounding 17.

The two Task Force Liberty helicopters were struck by small arms fire at 10:50 p.m. after responding to troops in contact with enemy forces near Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, the military said.

An OH-58 Kiowa carrying two people landed safely at a nearby base after sustaining damage. The military didn't say if there were any injuries aboard that aircraft.

The Kiowa is an armed reconnaissance helicopter. Task Force Liberty, under the command of the 42nd Infantry Division, has its headquarters in Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

In Baghdad, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari told a small group of Western reporters that next week's planned crackdown, dubbed Operation Lightning, was designed "to restore the initiative to the government." Insurgents have killed more than 620 people since his government was announced April 28.

"We will establish, with God's help, an impenetrable blockade surrounding Baghdad like a bracelet surrounds a wrist," Defense Minister Saadoun al-Duleimi said.

Iraqi authorities did not say how long the crackdown would last, and it was uncertain if the Iraq security services are capable of mounting a sustained operation. Except for a few elite units, most police officers are thought to have joined for the higher pay the job provides: At $300 per month, their salaries are triple the average wage.

Iraq has 89,400 security personnel attached to the Ministry of Interior, the U.S. military said. This includes police, highway patrol and some commando units, although the figure may include some who have deserted. About 75,800 forces are in the country's military, most of them in the army.

Jaafari said his government was working hard to recruit, train and equip its police and army but still needed support from 160,000 foreign troops, including 138,000 from the United States, to deal with the raging insurgency.

American forces will back the Iraqis with logistical aid and air cover during Operation Lightning, the U.S. military said.

All of Baghdad's 23 entry points would be controlled, Jaafari said. Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, who helped announce Operation Lightning, or "Barq" in Arabic, said there would be 675 checkpoints along with mobile checkpoints to try to deter assailants around the city and in areas where attacks are frequent.

The government said Baghdad would be divided into two sectors, Karkh on the west bank of the Tigris River that separates the city, and Risafa on the east. Karkh would be divided into 15 subdistricts and Risafa into seven subdistricts. Police and emergency personnel would operate in Baghdad 24 hours a day.

Duleimi, one of a handful of Sunni Muslims in the Shiite-led government, called on all Iraqis to stand up to an insurgency that has raged unabated for more than a year.

Northwest of Baghdad, in the city of Haditha, more than 1,000 U.S. troops continued a sweep for insurgents responsible for attacks against coalition troops. They ordered at least one airstrike Thursday against a suspected militant position. At least 11 insurgents and one Marine have been killed since Operation New Market began Wednesday.

Insurgents continued to target Iraqi police and government officials in an attempt to undermine the new government. Gunmen shot dead Iraqi army Capt. Awas Youssif Hassan in the Khalis area northeast of Baghdad, army Col. Abdulla al-Shimary said.

Separately, gunmen in a speeding car fired automatic weapons at a group of people driving to work in Baghdad's southern Risala neighborhood, killing four Iraqis, including a university professor and a translator working for the U.S. military, police Lt. Hussam Noori said.

A top Industry Ministry official, Samir Nima Ghaidan, was shot dead by gunmen while leaving his office in northern Baghdad's Mustansiriyah Square to return home, army Capt. Hussein Hakim said. Ghaidan ran the ministry's transport department.

In one of the insurgency's most bizarre attacks to date, someone tied a crude homemade bomb to a dog, which exploded near an Iraqi army patrol south of Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, police said.

None of the soldiers was harmed in the blast.

[Last modified May 27, 2005, 00:41:05]

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