At least fifteen American soldiers have been killed and more than 20 wounded in an attack on a US military helicopter. It is the highest number of casualties suffered by the US-led coalition in a single incident since Saddam Hussein was toppled in April.
The helicopter came down in a cornfield near the flashpoint town of Falluja, 50 kilometres (32 miles) west of the capital. Local Iraqis report that it was hit by one of two surface-to-air missiles fired at it, but a US military spokesman has said it may have crashed while taking evasive action.
The helicopter was one of two twin-rotor Chinooks flying nearly 60 personnel from a US military base to Baghdad International Airport. The troops on board were due to fly abroad for rest and recreation leave.
The helicopter was almost totally destroyed. Television pictures showed US personnel recovering the dead and wounded from smoking debris.
Villagers displayed blackened pieces of wreckage to journalists, and residents in nearby Falluja celebrated in the streets. “This was a new lesson from the resistance, a lesson to the greedy aggressors,” one Iraqi said to reporters. “They’ll never be safe until they get out of our country.”
The downing of the helicopter was one of a number of attacks on US forces in Iraq on Sunday. One American soldier died when his convoy was attacked in the early hours in Baghdad, while unconfirmed reports say that up to four Americans were killed in an attack on a convoy in Falluja.
Falluja lies within the so-called “Sunni triangle” of central Iraq - a largely Sunni Muslim area where resistance to the US-led coalition’s occupation has been intense. US military officials have repeatedly warned that hundreds of surface-to-air missiles remain unaccounted for in Iraq. The Chinook, which has a crew of four, is a heavy-lift helicopter used primarily for moving troops transporting artillery.
A total of 136 American troops have now been killed in attacks since US President George W Bush declared combat over on May 1st. Attacks on coalition troops have intensified in the past week, reaching an average of more than 30 a day.
The planning and execution of some recent attacks has led to speculation the militants opposed to the coalition have now formed into a more cohesive, better organised force. There had been rumours that this weekend would see co-ordinated attacks on coalition targets.
A senior British member of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, told the BBC that the people carrying out the attacks were a “nasty mix”. He said they were supporters of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, “imported terrorists”, and criminals released from jail by the former regime before it fell.
Sunday’s incidents follow an announcement by the chief US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, that he wants to accelerate the handover of authority to Iraqis.
Article courtesy of BBC News