- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

BAGHDAD — Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed yesterday to have shot down a U.S. attack helicopter that crashed near Ramadi, killing two Marines aboard.

A third serviceman died when his patrol struck a roadside bomb while rushing to their rescue.

Another U.S. soldier was killed yesterday when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb during a combat operation near Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, the military said. The deaths raised to at least 2,037 the number of U.S. military service members who have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

The helicopter crash that killed the two Marines occurred Wednesday in the insurgent stronghold west of the capital during two days of fighting in the area that saw three other U.S. service members killed by roadside bombs.

Boys stood yesterday beside the wreckage of the AH-1W Super Cobra and residents of the insurgent stronghold buried dead from what they said was a subsequent U.S. air strike nearby.

“Brethren in al Qaeda in Iraq’s military wing downed a Super Cobra attack helicopter in Ramadi with a Strella rocket, thanks be to God,” al Qaeda in Iraq said in a statement posted on an Islamist Internet forum often used for its pronouncements.

The military did not specify the cause of the crash, but Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said witnesses “believe they saw a munition fired at the helicopter and saw the helicopter break in pieces in midair and then crash.”

Maj. Gen. Martha Rainville, the adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, said 2nd Lt. Mark Procopio, 28, of Burlington was killed Wednesday by the roadside bomb as his patrol of four Humvees and two tanks headed to secure the crash site.

Hours later, a U.S. fighter jet dropped two 500-pound bombs on what the military said was an “insurgent command center” about 400 yards from where the helicopter went down.

In a separate statement, al Qaeda in Iraq said it sentenced to death two Moroccan Embassy employees kidnapped last month in Iraq.

Two Iraqi policemen were killed in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad yesterday, and bodies of 12 men who had been kidnapped and killed were found in a sewage station, police said.

But few attacks by Sunni-led insurgents were reported in Iraq yesterday as Sunni Arabs began the three-day religious holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which ends a month of fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Most Iraqi Shi’ites start the holiday today.

The months of the Muslim calendar are lunar. Therefore, they start when the new moon is spotted by trustworthy members of the community. Based on that observance, Sunni clerics decided that Eid would begin yesterday this year, while Shi’ites chose today.

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