British helicopter crashes in s. Iraq

Four-member crew reportedly killed; locals cheer, throw stones at rescuers.

helicopter downed 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
helicopter downed 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
A British military helicopter crashed in the southern city of Basra on Saturday, and as British forces raced to the scene a large crowd of Iraqis threw stones and set at least one armored vehicle on fire. Police Capt. Mushtaq Khazim said the helicopter went down in a residential area of the city, apparently after being hit by a missile or a rocket. He said the four-member crew had died but that no Iraqis were hurt on the ground. The British military confirmed there were casualties but provided no other details. British forces backed by armored vehicles rushed to the area but were met by a hail of stones from members of the crowd, who jumped for joy and raised their fists as a plume of thick smoke rose into the air from the crash site. The crowd also set at least one British tank on fire. The chaotic scene was widely shown on Iraq state television and on the Al-Jazeera satellite station. Britain has about 8,000 troops based in the mostly Shi'ite Basra area, and southern Iraq has long been much less violent than Baghdad and western Iraq where Sunni Arab-led insurgents and al-Qaida in Iraq launch many attacks against Iraqi civilians and US and Iraqi forces. But Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shi'ite religious leader, hasn't always been able to keep growing anti-coalition fervor among Shi'ite radicals under control. In September, British forces arrested two officials of Mahdi Army, the Shi'ite militia loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, raising tensions in Basra. About a week later, militiamen and residents clashed with British troops after two British soldiers disguised as Arabs were detained by Iraqi authorities. British forces launched a raid to free the men and an Iraqi judge issued a homicide warrant for their arrest. British officials said the warrant was illegal under Iraqi law and that their personnel were immune to prosecution in Iraq. An American soldier was killed by the roadside bomb in Baghdad on Friday, the US command announced Saturday. In Tikrit, a suicide bomber wearing an Iraqi army uniform entered an Iraqi base and detoned an explosives belt, killing an Iraqi lieutanent colonel, a major and a lieutenant, and wounded a lieutenant colonel, said Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed Jassim, a spokesman for Iraq's Defense Ministry. The bomber targeted a group of Iraqi army recruits who had just finished their training and were being dispatched to another area of Iraq, Jassim said. Officials in Tikrit said the bomber apparently told guards that he wanted to see one of the officers and was admitted to the base without being searched. The attack in the Sunni Arab city 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad appeared to be part of a campaign by Sunni-led insurgents to discourage Sunnis from joining Iraqi security forces. The Bush administration hopes that newly trained Iraqi soldiers and police can one day improve security in Iraq enough to begin withdrawing US forces from the country. In a bid to counter the US efforts, Sunni militants have targeted Sunnis who cooperate with the government, including Iraqi army and police. Earlier this week, a suicide bomber killed two policemen and 13 police recruits in the Sunni city of Fallujah, police said. At least seven Sunnis who completed army basic training in Habaniyah have been found dead in their hometowns of Ramadi and Khaldiyah, police said. A roadside bomb also exploded Saturday near a Polish convoy in Diwaniyah south of Baghdad, wounding three soldiers, Poland's Defense Ministry said. Poland has about 900 troops in south-central Iraq, where it commands an international force. In other violence in Iraq on Saturday:
  • Suspected insurgents kidnapped seven Iraqis, including three paramilitary policemen, near the town where a roadside bomb killed three US service members the day before, police said.
  • Roadside bombs hit two Iraqi police patrols in Baghdad, killing one officer and wounding two policemen and six civilians, police said.
  • Two rockets or mortars were fired in northern Baghdad, one hitting a home and killing two children and wounding a woman, said police Maj. Moussa Abdul-Karim.
  • Police in Baghdad found the bodies of seven Iraqi men, five of them relatives from Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, who had been kidnapped and brutally killed. They appeared to be the latest victims of a wave of sectarian killings by "death squads," police said.
  • In Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, a roadside bomb wounded two Iraqi policemen, said police Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf. Police also found the bullet-ridden bodies a father and son who had been kidnapped earlier in the day.
  • In Rawah, a small Sunni city 275 kilometers (175 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraqi and US forces searched shops for weapons and imposed a curfew, said police chief Nadhim Harith.