Iraq Helicopter Crash Kills 5 U.S. Troops



A U.S. transport helicopter crashed Tuesday near an air base west of Baghdad, killing five troops, the military said.

The CH-47 Chinook helicopter was conducting a routine post-maintenance test flight when it went down near Taqaddum air base, said 1st Lt. Shawn Mercer, a Marine spokesman.

He said emergency response crews had sealed off the site and the cause was still under investigation. A military statement later said five American service members were killed in the crash.

The deaths raised to at least 3,700 members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

The air base is about 45 miles west of Baghdad in restive Anbar province, a Sunni insurgent stronghold that has become calmer in recent months as tribal leaders have joined forces against al Qaeda in Iraq.

Elsewhere, three suicide truck bombers targeted members of an ancient religious sect in northwestern Iraq, killing at least 20 people. In Baghdad, dozens of uniformed gunmen in 17 official vehicles stormed an oil ministry compound and abducted a deputy oil minister and three other officials, a ministry spokesman and police said.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the bombings targeting the Yazidis - a primarily Kurdish sect that worships an angel figure considered to be the devil by some Muslims and Christians. But the attacks bore the hallmark of al Qaeda in Iraq, which has been regrouping in the north of the country after being driven from safe havens in Anbar and Diyala provinces.

In other developments:

  • Iraq's most senior Sunni politician issued a desperate appeal for Arab nations to help stop what he called an "unprecedented genocide campaign" by Shiite militias armed, trained and controlled by Iran. Adnan al-Dulaimi said "Persians" and "Safawis," Sunni terms for Iranian Shiites, were on the brink of total control in Baghdad and soon would threaten the Sunni Arab regimes that predominate in the Mideast.

  • A U.S. soldier testified Monday that he saw a sergeant beat an Iraqi detainee with a baseball bat, then himself assaulted another detainee when goaded by the sergeant. Spc. Angel M. Bonilla was the first witness at Sgt. 1st Class Timothy L. Drake's court-martial for the alleged beating and an attempted cover-up. The military judge dismissed one of the most serious charges against Drake earlier in the day.
  • In northwestern Iraq, a suicide attacker driving a fuel truck struck a residential complex housing members of the minority Yazidi sect, killing at least nine people and wounding 14 in the town of Qahataniya, 75 miles west of Mosul, police Brig. Gen. Maawad Ahmed said.

    In a separate attack, a fourth suicide truck bomber struck a strategic bridge on the main highway linking Baghdad with the northern city of Mosul, killing at least 10, police said. The span was bombed three months ago and only one lane had reopened, according to police officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

    The attacks came as 16,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops began a new operation north of the Iraqi capital targeting insurgents who have fled a crackdown in the restive city of Baqouba, the military said Tuesday.

    In Baghdad, Abdel-Jabar al-Wagaa, the senior assistant to Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, was spirited away by more than 50 gunmen wearing security forces uniforms and driving what were believed to be military vehicles, said Assem Jihad, the oil ministry spokesman.

    An Interior Minister official, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to release the information, said a top official in the State Oil Marketing Organization and three directors general in the operation also were kidnapped.

    The official said five bodyguards were wounded in the raid on the State Oil Marketing Organization complex in eastern Baghdad.

    Five Britons were seized May 29 in a similar raid on Iraq's Finance Ministry, not far from the oil marketing office. They were taken by gunmen wearing police uniforms and have not been found.

    Both government organizations are near the lawless Sadr City Shiite enclave, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia.

    The raid also was reminiscent of an attack by Mahdi Army fighters, dressed as Interior Ministry commandos, who stormed a Higher Education Ministry office Nov. 14 and snatched away as many as 200 people. Dozens of those kidnap victims were never been found.

    Jihad said the kidnappers Tuesday were an "armed gang" and took the deputy minister from his home in the compound. He said the gunmen stole a number of cars from the compound, most of them belonging to the marketing organization.

    Posted by KO

    The Associated Press and CBS News contributed to this report.