- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2003

TIKRIT, Iraq — An Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed yesterday — apparently shot down by insurgents — killing all six U.S. soldiers aboard and capping the bloodiest seven days in Iraq for Americans since the fall of Baghdad last spring.

The U.S. death toll for the week climbed to 32, including those aboard the Black Hawk. Two other soldiers were killed near Mosul, raising concerns that the insurgency is spreading north.

U.S. policy, meanwhile, suffered another setback as Turkey decided not to send troops to Iraq because of strong opposition from Iraqi officials.

The helicopter crashed on an island in the Tigris River and burst into flames — the third fatal helicopter crash in two weeks.

Maj. Josslyn Aberle said the cause of yesterday’s crash had not been determined, but several other officers, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they believed it was shot down.

The helicopter, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, went down about 9:40 a.m. a half mile from the U.S. base in Saddam Hussein’s former palace, which serves as headquarters for the 4th Infantry Division.

Afterward, attack helicopters cruised throughout the day over Saddam’s hometown, swooping low over villages and farms as rescuers picked through the charred wreckage of the aircraft.

Late yesterday, U.S. troops fired mortars and U.S. warplanes dropped at least three 500-pound bombs around the crash site, rattling windows over a wide area in an apparent show of force. Other U.S. warplanes streaked over Tikrit after sundown. At least three mortars were also fired into the U.S. compound but caused no damage.

The dead included the Black Hawk’s four-member crew and two soldiers from Department of the Army headquarters, according to a Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Steve Stover.

In Mosul, 250 miles north of Baghdad, guerrillas attacked a convoy with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. The military said one U.S. soldier died and six others were wounded in the clash.

Another soldier had died in Mosul the previous night when a homemade bomb exploded, the military said.

Both of those soldiers, as well as the Black Hawk’s four-man crew, were from the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Three others were injured yesterday when a roadside bomb exploded near the Mosul Hotel, which is now used as a military barracks, the military said. Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, had been considered relatively safe for American soldiers until an escalation of attacks there over the past three weeks.

U.S. officers have long been concerned about the safety of aviation because of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of shoulder-fired missiles still missing in Iraq after the collapse of Saddam’s regime in April.

On Oct. 25, insurgents shot down a Black Hawk over Tikrit, injuring one crewman. Last Sunday, insurgent gunners brought down a Chinook transport helicopter west of Baghdad, killing 15 Americans in the bloodiest single strike against U.S. forces since the war began March 20.

An Apache attack helicopter was shot down in June in the western desert but the two crew members escaped injury.

The latest fatalities brought to 32 the number of American soldiers who have died in Iraq in the first week of November. That includes one 1st Armored Division soldier who died in a nonhostile shooting incident.

In Baghdad, about 500 Sunni Muslims marched yesterday to coalition headquarters to demand the release of 36 clerics arrested in recent months. Protesters chanted slogans including “America’s army will be wiped out,” and “America is the enemy of God.” They also carried a banner reading “Prisons … will never terrify us.”

Marchers stopped at the heavily fortified compound and sent a three-member delegation inside to present their demands. After a 45-minute meeting, the three delegates returned, saying they had been promised “that something good would happen,” according to one of them, Sheik Awad al-Haradan.

Another delegate said the Americans asked them to work on stopping attacks against coalition forces in Iraq.

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