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14 U.S. troops die in chopper crash

Times Staff Writer

A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter crashed Wednesday, killing all 14 troops on board, and a powerful truck bomb in north-central Iraq left at least 51 Iraqis dead.

It was a day of many reminders of all that is dysfunctional in Iraq and all that is at stake. With Baghdad suffering through its fifth summer with little more than a couple of hours of electricity each day to run fans and refrigerators, Electricity Minister Waheed Kareem said it probably would be three or four years before power needs could be met.

At least half a dozen roadside bombs were detonated near U.S. or Iraqi forces, including one that killed an Iraqi policeman at a traffic roundabout in Tikrit and three that hit U.S. convoys in Baghdad. No U.S. military statements were issued on the Baghdad explosions, although witnesses said there appeared to have been casualties in at least two of the blasts.

A U.S. soldier died in west Baghdad during operations to clear out cells that support insurgents, the military said. Sweeps of suspected hide-outs and munitions workshops have been the focus of a troop buildup that has swelled the U.S. military presence in Iraq to more than 160,000.

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The combat death in Baghdad and the 14 fatalities in the UH-60 Black Hawk crash brought to 3,722 the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, according to the website icasualties.org.

The Black Hawk went down during night maneuvers in an area of northern Iraq, said military spokesman Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, who declined to specify the location. An investigation was ordered on the cause of the crash.

Bergner said initial indications were that it was caused by a mechanical malfunction.

“There were no indications of hostile fire,” he told reporters.

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Military officials have yet to determine the cause of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter crash last week in Al Anbar province in which five U.S. soldiers died, said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, another military spokesman.

The U.S. military relies heavily on helicopters, especially the workhorse Black Hawks, to move troops around Iraq because of the danger of bombings along the roads. The Black Hawk carries a crew of four and as many as 11 troops packed into its small fuselage.

Wednesday’s crash was the deadliest U.S. aviation mishap here since Jan. 26, 2005, when a CH-53E Sea Stallion went down in a sandstorm in western Iraq, killing 31 troops.

The truck bombing occurred outside the main police station in Baiji, about 125 miles north of Baghdad. Baiji, which is on the Tigris River, is a crossroads for Iraq’s main oil pipelines. The explosion leveled the building that had been the town’s education administration office until a month ago. Police took it over after their headquarters was bombed by insurgents this year and had planned to erect protective concrete walls around it.

Several neighboring buildings also collapsed from the force of the explosion, which inflicted such a high number of casualties because the station is on the main commercial street where most residents do their shopping.

A suicide bomber drove a motorcycle loaded with explosives into a police checkpoint in Muqdadiya, in Diyala province, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad. Four policemen and two civilians were killed and 35 people injured, a police source reported.

In Taji, about 12 miles north of Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated a tank of fuel outside a U.S. patrol base, damaging three houses behind sandbag blast walls and provoking gunfire from within, said Kamel Luhaibi, a truck driver who saw the attack. There was no word on casualties.

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carol.williams@latimes.com

Special correspondents in Tikrit and east Baghdad contributed to this report.


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