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Iraq Transition

Fifth U.S. chopper goes down in Iraq, killing 7

Story Highlights

• Seven crew members, passengers killed when helicopter went down
• Insurgent group claims responsibility for shooting down the chopper
• Military concerned that insurgents are getting better at downing helicopters
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Seven people were killed Wednesday when a Marine helicopter crashed outside Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

Crew members and passengers were on the CH-46 Sea Knight when it went down in Anbar province. The military said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

It was the fifth U.S. helicopter to go down in Iraq in almost three weeks. (Watch smoke and flames spew from the downed chopper Video)

An umbrella insurgent group claimed responsibility for downing the helicopter and "burning it down completely," according to a claim posted on various Islamist Web sites.

CNN was unable to confirm the authenticity of the statement from the group, which includes al Qaeda in Iraq.

The Internet posting says that "the defense air brigade of the Islamic state of Iraq" shot down a Chinook helicopter in the Karma region of Anbar province, near Falluja.

The U.S. military said the chopper was a CH-46 Sea Knight, not a Chinook.

"And hundreds of people, at least, watched it burn and their voices shouted, 'God is great,' thanking God," the Web posting says.

"And we say to the enemy of God that these are the proofs of God's conquest that he bestowed upon us so all thanks and praises are due to Him."

The posting is signed by "the Ministry of Information/Islamic State in Iraq."

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said a quick-reaction force went to the site of the downed helicopter, 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of the capital. Though the cause of the crash was not immediately known, military officials said they believe there is enemy action in the area.

The Chinook and Sea Knight are similar twin-rotor helicopters. According to Boeing, which manufactures the choppers, the Chinook was designed for the Army while the Sea Knight was produced for the Navy.

Attacks raise concerns

Four other U.S. helicopters -- three military and one civilian -- were shot down in Iraq between January 20 and last Friday, raising concerns that insurgents are becoming more proficient at downing the aircraft. (Map)

Sixteen U.S. troops died in the three military helicopter crashes, and five employees of the Blackwater private security company were killed when their helicopter came under heavy fire January 23 in eastern Baghdad.

The Senate Armed Services Committee raised the issue during a hearing Tuesday on the military budget.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, asked Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, if the helicopter attacks mean "that enemy forces have achieved some higher level of capability with shoulder-fired missiles."

Pace responded that it was his understanding the choppers were shot down with small arms, not missiles.

He said each incident is investigated.

"At this point and time, I do not know whether or not it is the law of averages that caught up with us or if there's been a change in tactics, techniques and procedures on the part of the enemy, which is what the investigation will do," Pace said. (Watch why the U.S. may need to rethink how it protects helicopters in Iraq Video)

Iraqis targeted

Gunmen and bombers targeted government employees, Iraqi forces and civilians in attacks in Baghdad on Wednesday, authorities said.

One of the dead was an employee of Iraq's state-run television network, al-Iraqia, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said. The employee was shot to death outside the station's headquarters in central Baghdad; a second employee was wounded in what police called a "sniper attack."

Another civilian was killed and seven others were wounded when two mortar rounds slammed into a northeastern Baghdad residential area, police said.

In central Baghdad, a police officer was killed and three others were wounded when a roadside bomb detonated near their vehicle, police said. Another roadside bomb exploded near a joint U.S.-Iraqi police convoy in eastern Baghdad, killing one Iraqi officer and wounding three.

Four other Iraqis, including an Interior Ministry official, were wounded in the New Baghdad neighborhood when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle, an Interior Ministry official said.

Also Wednesday, three children were killed and 12 civilians were wounded when insurgents fired three mortar rounds in Mzerat, a village north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. U.S. soldiers were providing medical aid to the wounded at the scene, the military said.

North of the capital, police said they found two bodies -- one unidentified woman and one female government employee -- that had been shot and dumped in eastern Mosul.

Police in Mosul also reported that a woman working for the Mosul passport office and her husband were shot dead in the western part of the city.

Other developments

• Three former U.S. Army Reserve officers and two civilians were indicted Wednesday and charged with rigging bids for Iraq reconstruction projects. The 25-count indictment accused the five of steering more than $8 million in reconstruction funds to a contractor in exchange for kickbacks that included gifts of vehicles, jewelry and real estate. ( Full story)

U.S. military commanders expressed faith Wednesday in the Iraqis' ability to restore order to Baghdad. As part of an Iraqi-run and U.S.-backed security plan, thousands of U.S. and Iraqi forces will man joint security stations in neighborhoods across the city, some in existing police stations. (Watch how troops found a cache of weapons in a mosque Video)

An Italian judge indicted a U.S. soldier Wednesday on charges of homicide and attempted homicide in the shooting death of an Italian intelligence agent participating in a hostage-rescue situation two years ago. The soldier will be tried in absentia beginning April 17. The charges stem from the death of Nicola Calipari, who was killed in March 2005 when U.S. troops allegedly opened fire on his vehicle as it approached a checkpoint en route to the Baghdad airport. (Full story)

A U.S. Marine died from wounds sustained in enemy action Tuesday in Anbar, the Sunni-dominated province west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. The number of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq war stands at 3,103, including seven Department of Defense civilians. Twenty U.S. troops have died in February.

Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told Reuters that the plight of Iraq's 4 million refugees had reached a state of "humanitarian disaster." He pleaded with the international community to do more for Iraqis who have been displaced or forced to leave the country.

• French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told London's Financial Times that the U.S. should pull its troops out of Iraq within a year and called the proposal to send more troops to the war-ravaged nation "absurd." He further called foreign troops the "founding stone of the crisis," according to the newspaper. "If you do not say that in one year there will be no more American or British troops in Iraq, nothing will happen in Iraq except more deaths and crises. Why? Because no one is taking responsibility and even some people are fueling the crisis," de Villepin told the Financial Times.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh, Barbara Starr, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Alessio Vinci contributed to this report.


Video footage from the wreckage shows a U.S. military helicopter smoldering near Baghdad on Wednesday. Insurgents have taken credit for the crash.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


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