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Insurgents down chopper, killing 2 U.S. troops

The U.S. military on Monday announced the deaths of four American troops, including two soldiers who were killed when insurgents shot down their helicopter south of Baghdad.
/ Source: news services

The U.S. military on Monday announced the deaths of four American troops, including two soldiers who were killed when insurgents shot down their helicopter south of Baghdad.

Elsewhere, insurgents fired more than 30 mortar rounds at a British military camp in southern Iraq, wounding four soldiers.

The helicopter was shot down near the town of Yusifiya, nine miles south of the capital. The area is a stronghold of the Sunni Arab insurgency against U.S.-forces and the Shiite-led government they back.

“Two soldiers died ... when their helicopter was shot down during fighting in Yusifiya,” a U.S. statement said, giving no further details.

Four Iraqis were killed and five wounded in two other attacks, including a roadside bomb that hit an oil tanker, sending black smoke billowing over central Baghdad.

British casualties rise
The mortar barrage came at about 4:30 a.m. Monday at Camp Abu Naji in Amarah, 180 miles southeast of Baghdad, said British spokeswoman Capt. Kelly Goodall.

One of the British soldiers was badly hurt, but the others’ injuries were not as serious, said Holly Wheeler, a British Ministry of Defense spokeswoman in London.

The attack raised the total of British casualties in Iraq over the past nine days to six soldiers killed and five wounded. The other attacks also occurred in southern Iraq, an area that has been far more peaceful than central and northern Iraq where U.S. forces are based.

On Saturday, two British soldiers were killed and one was wounded by a roadside bomb as they patrolled in their armored vehicle north of Basra city.

On May 6, four British soldiers died when their helicopter crashed in Basra, apparently downed by a missile. Jubilant Iraqi residents pelted British rescuers with stones, hurled firebombs and shouted slogans in support of a radical Shiite cleric. Five Iraqi civilians, including a child, died and about 30 were wounded in the melee as Shiite gunmen and British soldiers exchanged fire.

The two U.S. Marines died Sunday during unspecified “enemy action” in Anbar Province, the area of western Iraq that is the heart of the Sunni-led insurgency, the U.S. command said. Two U.S. Army soldiers also died Sunday in a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad.

The fatalities raised to at least 2,441 the number of U.S. military personnel who have died since the Iraq war began in 2003, according to a count by The Associated Press.

Teachers slain
On Monday, a drive-by shooting at about 8:30 a.m. killed four teachers en route to their school in a village near Balad Ruz, a town 50 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said. The attackers and the victims were both riding in minibuses, the private vehicles that charge small fees to transport the general public.

Iraqi children inspect wreckages of vehicles burnt following a car bomb attack Baghdad, Sunday, May 14, 2006. Two suicide car bombs that exploded near a main checkpoint on a four-lane road leading to Baghdad's international airport, killing at least 14 Iraqis and wounding six.(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)Hadi Mizban / AP

In central Baghdad, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol missed the officers but killed one civilian, wounded four and set fire to an oil tanker parked nearby on Monday. “The explosion caused a huge fire,” said police Capt. Ziyad Naji.

On Sunday, widespread violence in Iraq killed dozens of people, including 14 Iraqis who died in a double suicide car bombing on the main road to Baghdad’s airport.

Cabinet talks bog down
The violence came as talks on a new Cabinet bogged down only a week before the constitutional deadline for completion of the process.

There had been hope that Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki would fill at least some Cabinet posts when parliament convened Sunday, perhaps even taking on for himself contentious roles such as the interior and defense ministries.

Al-Maliki’s mandate to form a Cabinet expires May 22. Should he fail, President Jalal Talabani would have 15 days to choose someone else to try to form a Cabinet. The constitution is unclear on whether he could pick al-Maliki again.

Lawmakers have struggled since Dec. 15 parliamentary elections to put together a national unity government, which many Iraqis and the U.S. government hope will lessen sectarian tensions and undermine support for the insurgency.

A party loyal to firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened to propose its own Cabinet list if other groups did not scale back their demands for roles in the new government.

Legislator Bahaa al-Araji of the United Iraqi Alliance denounced what he called U.S. meddling in the talks and set a deadline of two days to settle the matter. But the Shiite bloc has only 130 parliament members, which isn’t enough votes to seat a Cabinet.

A coalition of three Sunni Arab parties holding 44 seats warned that it would withdraw from the political process if it did not get at least one key post such as the Defense Ministry.

That threat came several days after a Shiite party with 15 lawmakers pulled out of the Cabinet talks because it was not given the Oil Ministry.