HADITHA, Iraq — Two American soldiers were killed Wednesday when their helicopter crashed in a river west of Baghdad, and gunmen assassinated the deputy police chief in the northern city of Mosul.
The cause of the crash of the OH-58 Kiowa helicopter that killed its two-man crew near Haditha, 120 miles from the capital, was not determined, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt. A witness, Emad Rasheed, 45, said he saw a missile hit one of two choppers in the area.
With the latest crash, the U.S. military has lost 15 helicopters since the occupation began in May — most to hostile fire. At least 60 Americans have been killed in the crashes.
In Baghdad, attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a major Shiite Muslim shrine overnight, officials at the shrine said. The RPG punched a hole in an outer wall of the Kazimiyah shrine in a northern neighborhood of the capital but caused no injuries.
Guerrillas take two-pronged approach
The attack on the shrine came on the fourth day of the Islamic month of Muharram, a sacred period when thousands of Iraqi Shiites and Iranian pilgrims have converged on Kazimiyah, where two Shiite saints are buried, and other Shiite shrines in cities of southern Iraq.
Video: U.S. helicopter down in Baghdad U.S. officials have said insurgents seek to fan tensions between Iraq’s Shiite majority and Sunni minority into a civil war. At the same time, guerrillas have stepped up attacks on Iraqi police and security forces, which are due to take a front-line role against the insurgency one the Americans transfer power to the Iraqis on June 30.
Gunmen in a car opened fire on Mosul’s deputy police chief Brigadier Hikmat Mohammed as he was headed to his office Wednesday morning, killing him, police Lt. Ziad Mahmoud said.
Hours earlier, a previously unknown militant group, the Mujahedeen Brigades in Iraq, distributed leaflets at police stations in the northern city of Kirkuk, threatening attacks on police and Kurdish militias for cooperating with Americans.
Police Col. Adel Ibrahim said he believed the group may have been behind the attack Monday in which a suicide bomber detonated his explosive-laden car outside Kirkuk’s Rahimawa police station, killing himself and eight policemen and wounding more than 50 other people.
“Anyone who supports and cooperated with the infidels will be under threat of death,” the group said. It threatened attacks on police checkpoints and warned, “We know all these (security) forces’ movements.”
“This is the last word for you, our Muslim brothers: Don’t be a shield for the infidel Americans and sacrifice yourself for a handful of dollars,” the leaflet said.
Kirkuk police chief Sherko Skakir said passengers in a single car distributed the leaflets overnight, throwing them over the walls of about two thirds of the police compounds in the city, 180 miles north of Baghdad.
Elsewhere, a roadside bomb exploded Wednesday alongside a convoy of fuel tankers near Latafiyah, 25 miles south of Baghdad, witnesses said. A Saudi fuel truck was damaged and the driver injured, the witnesses said.
Also Wednesday, leaflets were found pasted on a mosque in the central city of Fallujah warning police that those “collaborating with the Americans against the mujahedeen will be attacked.”
In Mosul, gunmen killed a senior military official from Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, Gen. Abd al-Illah Hussein Al-Annaz, late Tuesday. Al-Annaz’s son was also wounded, Mosul police chief Gen. Mohammed Khairy said.
Ethnic tensions grow in Kirkuk
Oil-rich Kirkuk has seen increasing ethnic tensions, occasionally erupting into violence, as Kurds, Arabs and ethnic Turkomans jostle for domination.
Kurds see the city as the heart of their Kurdistan homeland, and leaders are pressing for the city to eventually hold a referendum to determine if it will join a Kurdish federal region — a step opposed by many Arabs and Turkomans.
About 4,000 people demonstrated Wednesday in Baghdad, demanding guarantees of Turkomen rights in the future Iraq as politicians struggle to work out an interim constitution that will address federalism and Kurdish demands.
In a related development, a Kurdish group, the Reform Movement of Kurdistan, announced it had gathered 1.7 million signatures on a petition demanding a referendum in the Kurdish areas on whether they should remain part of Iraq or gain independence.
One of the organizers, Halkaut Abdullah, said signatures were gathered in major cities including Kirkuk, Mosul and Khanaqin, which have large Kurdish populations but are located outside the Kurdish autonomous region.
“We expect the majority to support independence,” Abdullah said. “This is their ambition, although ambitions aren’t necessarily realistic.”
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