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Two killed in U.S. copter crash in Iraq

U.S. Black Hawk helicopters arrive Tuesday at Al Asad air base, about 50 miles northwest of Baghdad, Iraq.
U.S. Black Hawk helicopters arrive Tuesday at Al Asad air base, about 50 miles northwest of Baghdad, Iraq.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A U.S. military helicopter crashed Wednesday into the Euphrates River in western Iraq, killing two crew members, a spokesman for the American-led coalition said.

It is not known whether the helicopter was attacked or went down because of mechanical difficulties, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a U.S. Army spokesman.

"A sister ship escorting the aircraft did not observe enemy fire, and an investigation is under way to determine the cause of the accident," he said

The chopper is an OH-58 Kiowa, a reconnaissance craft that carries two crew members. The aircraft is in the Euphrates River on its side, and dive teams have been contacted for assistance, Kimmitt said.

The crash occurred around Hadithah in the 82nd Airborne Division's area of operations, which stretches to the Syrian border. Hadithah, which sits along the Euphrates, is about 120 miles (193 kilometers) west of Baghdad.

Insurgent aide captured

A man believed to have been a top aide of an insurgent with links to al Qaeda was reported killed in a U.S. raid in the central Iraqi town of Habbaniya, according to an Army spokesman.

Abu Mohammed Hamza, an explosives expert, was carrying a Jordanian passport when the military found his body after a raid Thursday, the Army said.

The United States believes Hamza was one of the top lieutenants of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian suspected of writing a letter to al Qaeda leadership seeking help to combat the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Iraqis who work with it. The U.S. military said it intercepted the letter last month with an al Qaeda courier. The letter's author claims responsibility for attacks in Iraq.

In the raid, coalition forces found bomb-making material, suicide vests, passport materials, electronic components, pro-Saddam Hussein material and pictures of Zarqawi in the house where Hamza was staying, Kimmitt said at a briefing Tuesday in Baghdad.

Hamza likely was killed during an exchange of fire between U.S. soldiers and guerrillas, Kimmitt said.

The U.S. military arrested other people in the raid and are questioning them about insurgent operations and Zarqawi's whereabouts.

The coalition has issued a $10 million bounty for information leading to Zarqawi's arrest.

The purported Zarqawi letter depicts insurgents as worried about what effect Iraqi self-rule, scheduled for this summer, will have on their efforts. It also expresses frustration over the lack of cooperation between Iraqis and foreign fighters, the Americans' staying power and the growing solidification of Iraqi security forces. (Full story)

Meanwhile, the 4th Infantry Division announced the arrest of a former Baath Party official with links to Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the highest-ranking former official at large on the U.S. list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis. Members of the division apprehended Khatan al-Anber during a raid Monday night in Baqubah.

U.S. briefs Security Council

The United States said Tuesday that it hopes the United Nations will continue to play a role in Iraq as the country moves toward elections next year.

In a briefing to the U.N. Security Council, John Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also said the hunt for banned weapons in Iraq is ongoing.

"Additional work remains before the question of Iraq's stockpiles can be fully and completely addressed," Negroponte said.

Former top U.S. weapons inspector David Kay has said it's unlikely any significant stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq.

The Security Council meeting followed the release of a report Monday by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan from a special fact-finding team that studied the issue of direct elections in Iraq. (Full story)

The report said that direct elections for a transitional legislature could not take place before June 30, the deadline for the transfer of sovereignty back to Iraqis, and likely could not be held until next year. It also ruled out the U.S. proposal for caucus-style elections instead of a direct vote.

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