A U.S. security company helicopter crashed as it flew over a dangerous Sunni neighborhood in the central Baghdad where insurgents and Iraqi security troops fought a prolonged gunbattle, and a U.S. official said five American civilians on board were killed.
A senior Iraqi military official said Tuesday the aircraft was shot down, but this was disputed by a U.S. military official in Washington. The Iraqi said the helicopter was hit by a machine gunner over the Fadhil neighborhood on the east side of the Tigris River, while the American official said there was no indication in initial reports that the aircraft, owned by Blackwater USA, had been shot down.
A U.S. official in Baghdad had said there was no information to substantiate reports that the bodies had been shot.
All the officials demanded anonymity because the details had not been made public. The Americans said they did not know what caused the aircraft to crash.
Blackwater USA confirmed that five Americans employed by the North Carolina-based company as security professionals were killed. The statement from spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell did not provide identities or any details of the fighting.
The New York Times reported the helicopter went down as it came under attack and plummeted to the pavement through a tangle of electrical wires, but it was unclear if the crash resulted from gunfire, the wires or an effort to land.
Quoting unnamed American officials, the newspaper said the helicopter's four-man crew was killed along with a gunner on a second Blackwater helicopter. It said one military official said that at least four of the victims had suffered gunshot wounds to the head, raising the prospect that some of them had been shot on the ground.
In other developments:The Army general who would carry out President George W. Bush's U.S. troop buildup in Iraq urged patience Tuesday and predicted "tough days" ahead. "None of this will be rapid," Lt. Gen. David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The way ahead will be neither quick nor easy. There undoubtedly will be tough days." ABC news anchor Chris Cuomo was unhurt Tuesday after the convoy of military police he was riding with in Iraq was struck by a roadside bomb. Some of the soldiers suffered minor injuries in the attack, ABC said. The convoy of four heavily armored Humvees was going to check a report of a burning vehicle in northwest Baghdad when booby-trapped bodies left by the side of the road exploded. The prosecution in the trial of Saddam Hussein's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid played more tapes Tuesday in which a man it identified as the defendant called Iraq's current president "wicked" and "a pimp," and vowed not to leave alive anyone who spoke Kurdish. President Jalal Talabani was a Kurdish guerrilla leader when the recording allegedly was made of al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali" for allegedly using chemical weapons against the Kurds in the 1980s. The U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday that men allegedly wearing uniforms of the Iraqi security forces abducted a group of 17 Palestinian refugees from a building rented by the agency in Baghdad. "UNHCR is very concerned and is seeking information on the Palestinians' whereabouts from Iraqi authorities," the agency's spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters. Some of the Palestinians were later released. Increasing the size of the Army, strained by America's two ongoing wars, will cost an estimated $70 billion, a top Army general said Tuesday. And if yet another conflict were to develop before the force can be bolstered, it would take longer to fight and cost more American casualties than otherwise might be expected, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, a deputy chief of staff.An e-mail exchange interpreted by backers of the military as an affront to U.S. troops in Iraq has brought a deluge of criticism to a local company after circulating across the Internet.
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