13 die in crash of U.S. copter
Five American soldiers also died Saturday in an attack on a provincial headquarters.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A U.S. Army helicopter crashed northeast of the capital Saturday, killing all 13 people on board. Five American soldiers were killed Saturday night in an attack by militia fighters in Karbala. American and Iraqi troops stepped up raids on Sunni and Shiite gunmen, foreshadowing tactics expected to define the drive to tame Iraq's sectarian bloodshed.
The military gave little information on the Black Hawk's crash during good weather in Diyala province, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias around the city of Baqouba for months.
Lt. Col. Josslyn Aberle, a U.S. spokeswoman, said the cause of the crash had not been determined. Navy Capt. Frank Pascual, a member of a U.S. media relations team in the United Arab Emirates, told Al-Arabiya television that the helicopter was believed to have suffered technical troubles before going down.
It was the fourth-deadliest crash since the war started in March 2003. The worst occurred Jan. 26, 2005, when a Marine transport helicopter went down during a sandstorm in the western desert. Thirty Marines and one sailor were killed -- the most U.S. personnel to die in a single event in Iraq.
In the Karbala attack, the U.S. military said "an illegally armed militia group" attacked the provincial headquarters with grenades, small arms and "indirect fire," which usually means mortars or rockets.
"A meeting was taking place at the time of the attack to ensure the security of Shiite pilgrims participating in the Ashoura commemorations," said Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, deputy commander for Multi-National Division-Baghdad.
Karbala is 50 miles south of Baghdad, and thousands of Shiite pilgrims are flocking to the city to mark the 10-day Ashoura festival commemorating the death of one of Shiite Islam's most sacred saints, Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
Also Saturday, the military announced the deaths of two U.S. soldiers and a Marine. One soldier was killed Saturday in northern Baghdad, the other a day earlier in Nineveh province in the north. The Marine was killed Friday in Anbar province, the insurgent stronghold west of the capital.
The helicopter crash and other deaths come at a critical time for U.S. forces, as the first of 21,500 reinforcements are arriving in Baghdad and surrounding areas to join a campaign that President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are waging to curb sectarian slaughter.
In south Baghdad, U.S. helicopters dropped Iraqi police commandos into the dangerous Dora neighborhood to stage a raid on the Omar Brigade, an al-Qaida-linked Sunni militant group, Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf said.
Khalaf said 15 insurgents were killed and five captured during an intense battle at two abandoned houses taken over by Sunni gunmen, whom he blamed for a series of kidnappings and killings in a bid to cleanse the once-mixed neighborhood of Shiite residents.
"We were provided with helicopter support by our friends in the multinational forces and we did not suffer any casualties," Khalaf said. U.S. aircraft gave covering fire, but the U.S. military did not respond to a request for comment on the raid.
Elsewhere in Baghdad, Iraqi police and hospital officials said a joint U.S.-Iraqi force searched a hospital in the volatile Sunni-dominated western neighborhood of Yarmouk.
Dr. Haqi Ismail, the hospital manager, said the raid occurred at 4:30 a.m.
"They were looking for someone; they searched all the rooms and the emergency unit," he said.
Al-Sadr's aide captured
Al-Sadr's followers voiced increasing anger over Friday's capture of a senior aide to the radical cleric in a raid in eastern Baghdad.
Nassar al-Rubaie, the head of al-Sadr's bloc in parliament, accused U.S. forces of trying to provoke the Sadrists into violence during the expanding campaign to quell Iraq's fighting.
U.S. and Iraqi forces reportedly detained al-Darraji during a raid on a mosque complex before dawn Friday.
The U.S. military, in a statement that did not name al-Darraji, said special Iraqi army forces operating with U.S. advisers had "captured a high-level, illegal armed group leader" in Baghdad's Baladiyat neighborhood, next to the Mahdi Army stronghold of Sadr City. It said two other suspects were detained for further questioning.
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