- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

BAGHDAD — American troops hunted for antiaircraft missiles along Iraq’s trucking routes yesterday, digging through heaps of manure, mounds of hay or piles of pomegranates. The Army retrieved the wreckage of a downed transport helicopter and searched for clues about who blasted it from the sky.

Attacks continued yesterday — a blast near a Shi’ite Muslim shrine in the southern city of Karbala that witnesses said killed at least one person, and a barrage of three mortar rounds in Baghdad that caused no reported casualties.

One clue in Sunday’s helicopter shootdown may lie in Ramadi, west of the crash site, where an anti-U.S. leaflet warned, just two days before the shootdown, that Iraq’s insurgents would strike the Americans with “modern and advanced methods.”

The downing of the CH-47 Chinook, one of two carrying dozens of soldiers on their way to Baghdad airport and home leave, killed 16 Americans and wounded 20 others. It was the heaviest U.S. death toll in any single action since the invasion of Iraq March 20.

Sixteen of the injured were flown by an Air Force C-17 transport plane yesterday to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and treated at the U.S. Army’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Nine were admitted to the intensive care-unit, including five in serious condition, said hospital spokeswoman Marie Shaw.

“They are being evaluated and surgeries are planned throughout the day,” she said. Villagers who saw the helicopter downing south of Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, said it was struck from behind by one or two missiles apparently fired from a date palm grove in the area, deep in the Sunni Muslim heartland that has produced the most violent opposition to the U.S.-led coalition.

Hundreds of portable, shoulder-fired missiles are unaccounted for in Iraq, potential threats to U.S. forces that rely heavily on the slow, low-flying CH-47 Chinook craft for troop transport. The U.S. command has offered Iraqis $500 apiece for each portable missile turned in, but has refused to say how many have been surrendered.

In one search operation yesterday, U.S. military police stretched out razor wire and set up checkpoints along the main artery running north from Baghdad, now dubbed “Highway 1,” to look for weapons, including antiaircraft missiles.

“We have had indication that more of stuff like this [missiles] are moving out there,” said Lt. Col. Dave Poirier, commander of the 720th Military Police Battalion. “People know they are taking a big chance in transporting weapons … and for some of these large weapons systems, you’d have to have a truck to transport it.”

Spc. Andrew Fifield of San Antonio jumped on top of a truck transporting pomegranates and picked through the fruit carefully.

As he dug through dried manure atop a second truck, he motioned to Iraqi policemen to join him. None did.

The explosion in Karbala, 65 miles south of Baghdad, apparently was caused by a bomb planted in a parked car on a busy street less than 100 yards from the gold-domed Imam Hussein shrine, said Sheik Muhammad Abu Jaffar al-Assadi, a Shi’ite cleric.

In addition to at least one dead, it was believed 12 persons were wounded, Sheik al-Assadi said.


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