A U.S. Army helicopter crashed in Iraq’s western Anbar province, leaving two crew members missing and four injured, the U.S. military said Wednesday, as Iraqi and U.S. reinforcements move into the capital in a bid to stem sectarian violence that threatens civil war.
In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, four people were killed and 16 wounded in an explosion late Tuesday at a Shiite mosque, police said. Police first said the blast was due to a U.S. airstrike.
But the government agency that cares for Shiite shrines said the blast was not caused by a U.S. attack but due to "terrorists" who bombed the mosque, causing severe damage. The Shiite Endowment demanded that the authorities protect places of worship.
Four U.S. service members were injured when the UH60 Blackhawk helicopter crashed Tuesday with six people on board during a routine flight to survey the area, the U.S. command said in a statement Wednesday. The four injured troops were in stable condition, and it did not appear the crash was due to hostile fire, the U.S. military said.
Baghdad troop strength reinforced
The ongoing violence in Baghdad has prompted U.S. commanders to reinforce troop strength in the city. Over the past weeks, a force expected to number nearly 12,000 has been assembling here to try to take the streets back from Sunni and Shiite extremists.
A U.S. statement Tuesday said about 6,000 additional Iraqi troops were being sent to the Baghdad area, along with 3,500 soldiers of 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team and 2,000 troops from the U.S. 1st Armored Division, which has served as a reserve force since November.
“We must dramatically reduce the level of violence in Baghdad that is fueling sectarianism,” said Maj. Gen. J.D. Thurman, commander of the coalition forces in Baghdad, where strife between Shiites and Sunnis runs the highest.
“Iraqi and U.S. forces will help the citizens of Baghdad by reducing the violence that has plagued this city since the Samarra bombing,” Thurman said. “Iraqi and Multinational Division-Baghdad soldiers will not fail the Iraqi people.”
Sectarian militias blamed
Much of the violence has been blamed on sectarian militias that have stepped up a campaign of tit-for-tat killings since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in the northern city of Samarra.
Some of the reinforcements have already been seen patrolling a mostly Sunni neighborhood in western Baghdad, scene of armed confrontations between Sunni and Shiite gunmen.
Many of the militias responsible for sectarian violence are linked to political parties that are part of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s national unity government, and they are reluctant to disband their armed wings unless others do the same.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said there were talks under way between various Sunni and Shiite groups to reach agreements and sign pledges to end sectarian fighting.
Also Wednesday, Romanian President Traian Basescu arrived in Baghdad to meet Iraqi and U.S. officials and visit some of the country’s 890 troops stationed there. Basescu was received by President Jalal Talabani and will meet other key U.S. and Iraqi officials.
In June, Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu proposed withdrawing Romania’s troops from Iraq, but Basescu and the country’s top security body said the next day they would remain.
In Basra, the city council said it has decided not to cooperate with a committee sent by the prime minister to supervise an emergency plan for the city, according to councilman Aqil Talib. He said the council wanted to meet first with al-Maliki to determine the committee’s role.
The decision shows the tension between the central government and the religious Shiite political leadership in Basra.
In other violence Wednesday, gunmen on two motorcycles assassinated Col. Qassim Abdel-Qadir, administrative head of an Iraqi army division in the southern city of Basra, said a police official who did not want to be named for security reasons.
A roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. patrol in eastern Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhood of Habibiya, killing one bystander and injuring one U.S. soldier, said police Lt. Bilal Ali.
Police also found the bodies of three men who were shot in the head and dumped in two locations in southwestern Baghdad, said police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq said.
A policeman was killed and another wounded when they were trying to defuse a roadside bomb late Tuesday in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, police Capt. Laith Mohammed said.
In New Zealand, the Foreign Ministry said a Cook Islands national working as a driver in Iraq was killed in a bomb attack late Tuesday.