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6 killed in Black Hawk helicopter crash near Tikrit

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed—possibly brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade attack—near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit Friday morning, killing all six people on board.

The fatalities brought the number of casualties this week in Iraq to at least 32, making it the deadliest week for U.S. forces there since major combat operations were declared over on May 1.

The military said the chopper was from the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division and was ferrying passengers when it crashed about 9:20 a.m. on a riverbank on the east side of the Tigris River, about a half-mile from an American base in Saddam's former palace.

Despite the rising number of casualties, Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, an assistant commander of the U.S. 1st Armored Division, said Friday that the insurgency is waning, at least in Baghdad. There have been "spectacular" single attacks, he said, but overall the security situation has improved.

"What we saw is an exponentially significant increase in tips from Iraqis after the car bomb day, the Red Cross day," said Hertling, referring to the multiple attacks in Baghdad on Oct. 27 that killed mostly Iraqis. "What we see is the population of Baghdad is sick of it. The Iraqis—the Baghdad population—is tired of others disrupting their peace."

With the intelligence tips provided by Iraqis, "we are pulling in huge numbers of bad guys," Hertling said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday that Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul telephoned Secretary of State Colin Powell the night before and told him Turkey wouldn't be sending troops to Iraq. The Bush administration had hoped Turkey, and other nations, would send troops to help stabilize the nation and relieve the pressure on U.S. forces.

"The goal is stability in Iraq, and that there is recognition, I think, on all our parts that maybe this deployment at this time would not add to that goal in the way that we had hoped that it would," Boucher said.

Iraqi leaders had strongly opposed any troops from neighboring Turkey, which has a history of difficult relations with the Kurdish population in its country and in northern Iraq.

Despite the passage of a new U.N. resolution on Iraq last month, few if any countries have stepped forward with offers of additional troops.

In Tikrit, the military was investigating whether the Black Hawk helicopter was downed by mechanical failure or hostile attack.

"It was on the ground. It caught fire. We don't know when it caught fire," said military spokesman Col. William Darley. It was the second helicopter crash this week, following the downing on Sunday of a Chinook helicopter near Fallujah by a shoulder-fired missile.

The Chinook attack, which killed 16 and injured 26 soldiers who had been on their way out of Iraq for rest and recreation, was the single deadliest strike against U.S. forces since the war.

Two weeks ago, another Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by a rocket, also near Tikrit, injuring a crew member. Tikrit is about 110 miles north of Baghdad.

The heavily armored Black Hawk is one of America's most important combat helicopters, used to deliver or evacuate troops and carry medical supplies or anti-tank missiles. It can carry up to 11 combat-equipped troops and four crew members.

Earlier Friday morning, another member of the 101st Airborne Division was killed and six were wounded in east Mosul when their convoy was ambushed with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire, the military said.

Friday's attacks followed a roadside bomb attack on a five-vehicle convoy Thursday that killed another 101st Airborne Division soldier and injured two others on a highway east of Mosul.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Warren P. Strobel contributed to this report from Washington.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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