Six die in US helicopter crash near Tikrit

Another killed and six injured in convoy attack
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The Independent Online

Six US soldiers died today after an Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

"Six soldiers were on board and all of them were killed," said Maj. Jossyln Aberle, a spokeswoman for the 4th Infantry Division based in Tikrit. All were from the 101st Airborne Division, she said.

It was not immediately clear whether the helicopter was brought down by hostile fire or a mechanical failure, Aberle said. But an officer who asked not to be identified said it may have been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Separately, a convoy was attacked today in the eastern part of Mosul, 250 miles north of Baghdad, with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. The military said one US soldier died and six others were wounded in the clash.

Three others were injured later when a roadside bomb exploded near the downtown Mosul Hotel, which is now used as a military barracks.

The latest confirmed US military fatalities bring to at least 30 the number of American soldiers killed action in the first week of November. In addition, two American civilian contractors working for the US Army Corps of Engineers and a Polish officer also died in attacks over the past seven days.

The spate of attacks in the past week in Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, has raised concerns among US military commanders that the insurgency is spreading into that region from its main stronghold in the so-called Sunni Triangle, to the west and north of Baghdad.

The city is close to the semiautonomous Kurdish areas that lie between it and the Turkish border.

The US-led coalition occupying Iraq suffered more casualties Thursday, with Poland recording its first combat death when Maj. Hieronim Kupczyk, 44, was killed in an ambush south of Baghdad.

Poland has 2,400 soldiers in Iraq and is in charge of a large swath of south-central Iraq where about 9,500 soldiers of several nations help maintain security. A memorial ceremony for Kupczyk was to be held on Friday at the contingent's headquarters in Hilla, 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, announced that one of the soldiers wounded in Sunday's downing of an Army Chinook helicopter died Thursday at a medical facility in Germany, raising the death toll to 16. Twenty-six others were injured.

In al-Assad, a desert base 250 kilometers (155 miles) northwest of Baghdad, hundreds of soldiers, some wearing ceremonial spurs and black regimental hats, on Thursday remembered their comrades killed in the shootdown, the deadliest single attack against US forces since the Iraq war began March 20.

"Death was in the cause of freedom. They were serving our country and answering our nation's call to fight terrorists," said the unit's commanding officer, Col. David A. Teeples. "We honor them for their sacrifice. We honor them as Americans, as soldier and as family."

Army officials said the helicopter's crew apparently had a last-second warning of an approaching missile and managed to launch flares designed to draw the heat-seeking missile away. The defensive measure did not work and the missile slammed into the right side of the helicopter's rear engine, destroying it and triggering a fire.

Elsewhere, a US soldier was killed Thursday when his truck hit a land mine near the Husaybah border crossing point with Syria 195 miles northwest of Baghdad, the US military said.

In Washington on Thursday, President Bush signed a $87.5 billion package approved by Congress for Iraq and Afghanistan, calling the money a financial commitment by the United States to the global war to defeat terrorism.

"With this act of Congress, no enemy or friend can doubt that America has the resources and the will to see this war through to victory," Bush said at a White House ceremony.

Concern over security mounted after a series of attacks around the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began here Oct. 27. Since then, insurgents have rocketed the Al-Rasheed Hotel, set off deadly car bombs in Baghdad, fired mortars at the coalition headquarters compound in Baghdad and shot down the American helicopter.

The number of daily attacks on coalition forces dropped to 29 last week from a spike of 37 the week before, a US military spokesman said yesterday.