Two American helicopter pilots killed after Apache shot down near Baghdad |

Two American helicopter pilots killed after Apache shot down near Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. military said Sunday that the bodies of two American pilots killed when their Apache helicopter crashed near Baghdad were recovered and the aircraft was probably shot down. Three other U.S. soldiers were reported killed in Baghdad and northern Iraq.The AH-64D Apache Longbow went down about 5:30 p.m. Saturday during combat operations west of Youssifiyah, about 10 miles southwest of Baghdad, the U.S. command said in a statement.”The soldiers’ remains were recovered following aircraft recovery operations at the crash site” of the helicopter “which went down due to possible hostile fire,” the statement said.No further details were released, but Youssifiyah is located in the “triangle of death,” a religiously mixed area notorious for attacks by Sunni extremists against Shiites traveling between Baghdad and religious shrines south of the capital.It was the first loss of a U.S. helicopter since three of them crashed in a 10-day period in January, killing a total of 18 American military personnel. At least two of those helicopters were shot down.The U.S. command also said three more soldiers had been killed – two by a roadside bomb late Saturday in central Baghdad and another from non-hostile related injuries suffered near Kirkuk in northern Iraq on the same day.The five U.S. deaths brought to at least 2,333 the number of U.S. service members killed since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.In Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold 70 miles west of Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded Sunday near a U.S. convoy, blowing parts of a vehicle onto the roof of a nearby building. No U.S. casualties were reported, but witnesses said men danced around the wreckage, chanting “God is great.”Elsewhere, six insurgents were killed Sunday when a homemade bomb they were building exploded inside a house in Madain, about 15 miles southeast of Baghdad, police said.The latest U.S. casualties followed one of the least deadly months of the Iraq war for American forces. A total of 31 American service members died during March, the lowest monthly death toll for the U.S. military since February 2004.However, about 400 Iraqis died, many of them in violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims that escalated following the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra that triggered a wave of reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics.The rise in sectarian violence has added new urgency to the need to form a government of national unity following the Dec. 15 national elections to prevent the country from disintegrating into chaos.However, talks among the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties have bogged down due to wide differences among the sectarian and ethnic groups. In an effort to pressure the Iraqis into speeding up the process, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw flew to Baghdad for talks with political leaders.Straw said the choice of leaders is up to Iraqis alone, but both he and Rice made clear they were frustrated by the slow pace of the talks.”There is significant international concern about the time the formation of this government is taking, and therefore we believe and we will be urging the Iraqi leaders we see to press ahead more quickly,” Straw said.Sunni and Kurdish politicians blame much of the impasse on the decision by the dominant Shiite bloc to nominate Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for a second term. Critics maintain al-Jaafari was ineffective in combatting the Sunni led-insurgency and curbing sectarian tensions.But al-Jaafari, a physician who spent years in exile in Iran and Britain, has refused to step aside. He won the nomination in a ballot among Shiite legislators in February. Shiite officials say they fear that a bid to replace al-Jaafari could lead to the collapse of their alliance.With the political process deadlocked, sectarian violence has continued.The Iraqi joint command center in Baqouba reported that assailants blew up a small Shiite mosque Sunday in the region, some 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. However, a U.S. spokesman in Baghdad, Maj. Tim Keefe, disputed the report, saying American troops went to the reported location and “were unable to find any mosque that had been damaged.”Iraqi authorities as the command center said they were not authorized to give any details on the bombing report.Elsewhere, a Sunni sheik, Abdul-Minaam Awad, was assassinated in a village 40 miles west of Baghdad, a Sunni clerical association reported.Meanwhile, bodies of at least 42 men have been found in several neighborhoods of the Iraqi capital since Saturday, according to police Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi. All were handcuffed and had been shot in the head or chest – apparent victims of reprisal killings between Sunni and Shiite extremists.A prominent Sunni lawmaker, meanwhile, said his brother disappeared last week in a possible kidnapping. Saleh al-Mutlaq said his brother, Taha, went missing while driving north out of Baghdad to Salahuddin province. Al-Mutlaq is the head of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue party; his brother is also a member.”We haven’t heard any solid information about who could have been behind this operation,” said al-Mutlaq. “I think this may be a political issue.”Vail, Colorado

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