- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2006

MOSUL, Iraq — Insurgents apparently shot down a U.S. Army reconnaissance helicopter in this northern city yesterday, killing its two pilots, in the second fatal helicopter crash in Iraq in less than a week.

One witness said he heard machine-gun fire before the helicopter crashed, and children told soldiers that the sound of gunfire came from three or four directions and that the helicopter was flying erratically, possibly trying to evade it.

The crash came as Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, chief of the Multinational Corps Iraq, predicted increased attacks around Iraq when final election results are released next week. At least 500 persons and more than 50 U.S. troops have been killed since the Dec. 15 elections.

Gen. Vines, the second-highest-ranking general in Iraq, said from Baghdad’s Camp Victory that there were indications the OH-58 Kiowa was shot down. “The indicators are that it was due to hostile fire.”

The armed helicopter was on combat patrol just outside Forward Operating Base Courage when it went down in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, the military said.

The crash deaths bring to at least 2,214 the number of U.S. service members killed in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

The helicopter crash came nearly a week after a Black Hawk helicopter carrying eight U.S. troops and four American civilians went down near the northern city of Tal Afar, killing all aboard. Pentagon officials said the cause of that crash is still being investigated, although bad weather was reported in the area at the time.

In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded near a police patrol, killing two officers and wounding six persons.

Elsewhere, hundreds of Iraqi police candidates left restive Anbar province yesterday for training in the capital, including 200 men who survived a suicide bombing last week that killed 58 persons.

The 400 police candidates left in a convoy from Ramadi, an insurgent hotbed where a suicide bomber hit applicants at a police recruitment center on Jan. 5, killing more than 30 people.

The U.S. military has predicted more violence for Iraq in the weeks ahead as the country’s splintered politicians and religious groups struggle to form a government.

“We know the jihadists will attempt to attack the institutions of government probably when the results are announced to show their disdain for the democratic process,” Gen. Vines told Pentagon reporters during a videoconference.

While the past three days have been generally quiet, as the country observes the Islamic feast of sacrifice, Eid al-Adha, Gen. Vines said the insurgents “have not given up. They have not gone away. They have not gone home.”

Final election results have been delayed by Sunni Arab complaints of fraud, but are expected next week. Although leading politicians have expressed the hope a government could be formed in February, most analysts and officials agree it could take two to three months to do so, as it did last January after elections.

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