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Iraq Transition

General: Enemy fire might have downed U.S. copter

Story Highlights

• Insurgent group issues claim of responsibility; claim not confirmed
• First steps in security crackdown encouraging, U.S. general says
• A car bomb laced with poisonous gas killed two civilians
• British PM announces plans to withdraw 1,600 troops from Iraq
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A U.S. helicopter that had a "hard landing" Wednesday might have been brought down by enemy fire, according to military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, and an insurgent group has claimed responsibility.

"The indications are now that it was brought down by small-arms fire and RPGs -- rocket-propelled grenades," Caldwell said, noting that these are preliminary indications.

The Mujahedeen Army posted a message online, saying it was responsible for downing the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of the claim or its source.

A portion of the statement, dated Wednesday, said, "With God's blessing, at 10 o'clock this morning, Sheik Al-Islam bin Taimiya Brigade of the Mujahedeen Army was able to down a Black Hawk helicopter that belongs to the crusader occupying forces in the Taji area, north of Baghdad."

The chopper went down northwest of Baghdad.

All nine people on board were safe.

This is the seventh U.S. chopper that has crashed or made a hard landing since January 20. (Full story)

Toxic gas kills 2

Toxic gas killed Iraqi civilians for the second time in two days.

A car bomb laced with poisonous gas exploded near a hospital in southwestern Baghdad's Bayaa neighborhood Wednesday, killing two civilians and wounding seven others.

Twenty-three other civilians were hospitalized with respiratory problems caused from the noxious gases.

On Tuesday, a cloud of deadly toxic gas engulfed an Iraqi town, killing six people and leaving dozens of others choking on fumes after a tanker carrying chlorine exploded outside a restaurant.

An Iraqi Interior Ministry official said the blast in the town of Taji, 12 miles (20 kilometers) north of Baghdad, was caused by a bomb on board the tanker. (Watch why some say the war has increased terrorism Video)

Security crackdown 'encouraging'

The first steps in the Baghdad security crackdown have been "encouraging," Caldwell said Wednesday.

About 112,000 coalition and Iraqi security forces are a part of the stepped-up plan to restore peace to Iraq's capital.

Troops have been creating pedestrian zones around busy marketplaces that have been vulnerable to attacks from car bombers targeting civilians.

Caldwell cautioned it was too early to declare success.

"The effects of the operation will not be seen days or weeks, but over the course of months," he said, adding that "though there may be good days during that time, we are also going to have tough ones."

Other developments

• British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday announced plans to withdraw 1,600 of his country's troops from Iraq. In a statement to lawmakers in the House of Commons, Blair said British troop numbers would be reduced from 7,200 to 5,500 in the coming months but only if Iraqi security forces could secure the southern part of the country. (Full story)

• Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is denying a woman's rape allegations against three Iraqi policemen raped her. The Sunni Arab woman made the claims on Al-Jazeera on Monday. (Full story)

• A suicide car bomb exploded Wednesday at a busy Iraqi police checkpoint in the holy city of Najaf, killing at least 13 people and wounding 43 others, police said. The casualties included both police and civilians.

• Coalition forces killed seven insurgents and detained 13 others during raids in Iraq on Wednesday, the U.S. military said.

• A U.S. Marine was killed Tuesday while "conducting combat operations" in Anbar province, the U.S. military announced Wednesday. The Marine's death brought to the number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war to 3,139. Seven American civilian contractors of the military also have died in the conflict.

A car bomb exploded outside a popular restaurant in Baghdad's Sadr City, killing at least three people.

• Four mortars struck a neighborhood in western Baghdad, killing at least three civilians and wounding 10.

• A roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army convoy exploded in southern Baghdad Wednesday morning. Two soldiers were killed and three more wounded.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this story.

A British soldier patrols Basra on Wednesday.


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


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