Seven American soldiers were killed in southern Iraq early Thursday when their helicopter crashed as it was flying into the country from Kuwait, the U.S. military said.
The military said the CH-47 Chinook helicopter did not come under attack, and that the crash was an accident.
"At this time we are uncertain of the cause, but hostile fire has been ruled out," military spokesman Maj. John Hall said. "The other three helicopters in the flight did not have incident or injury."
The four-helicopter convoy was flying from Kuwait to the U.S. military base at Balad north of Baghdad when the crash occurred shortly after midnight in the desert about 60 miles west of Basra, the military said.
'Tough day for the coalition'
The military said the seven who died were the only people on board. The Chinook, the Army's workhorse, is designed to transport troops and supplies to combat and other regions.
"It is a tough day for the coalition and we are deeply saddened by the loss of our soldiers," said Col. Bill Buckner, another military spokesman. "Our prayers and condolences go out to the families."
The military did not release the names of those killed pending notification of next of kin.
On Wednesday, gunmen killed a Sunni assistant to the governor of one of Iraq's most volatile provinces, the latest in a series of attacks that have marred the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Shamil Younis, an engineer who handled technical affairs for Gov. Duraid Kashmola, was killed in a drive-by shooting as he was walking home after finishing prayers at a nearby mosque in Mosul, police said.
The attack occurred shortly after iftar, the meal that breaks the sunrise-to-sunset fast during Ramadan.
The governor, also a Sunni, confirmed the slaying and promised an investigation. He called it "a brutal crime against this innocent, good man."
Kashmola, who is the governor of Ninevah province of which Mosul is the capital, himself survived an apparent assassination attempt this summer.
The June 26 car bombing struck near the site where Kashmola was inspecting damage from an earlier explosion that police believed was meant to lure him to the market area in Mosul. At least 18 people were killed in the attack.
Nobody claimed responsibility for the killing of Younis, but it comes as insurgents — most of them Sunnis — are making a stand in Mosul, 22 miles northwest of Baghdad, after being routed in Baghdad and other urban centers.
Fragile security gains
Violence has dropped dramatically in Iraq since last year, but a wave of attacks coinciding with Ramadan shows that insurgents retain the ability to strike. U.S. military officials have warned that the security gains are fragile and urged Iraqi leaders to take advantage of the relative calm to make progress on the political front.
Iraqi lawmakers, however, failed to agree Wednesday on a new U.N. proposal aimed at breaking the deadlock over a law paving the way for provincial elections, which the U.S. considers key to building peace among the country's rival religious and ethnic communities.
The balloting has been delayed due to Kurdish objections to power-sharing proposals for the oil-rich Kirkuk region in northern Iraq, which Kurds want to annex into their semiautonomous region.
The U.N. issued a plan that would enable elections to be held in all provinces except Tamim, which includes Kirkuk, and create a seven-member committee to study the issue, lawmakers said.
But Arabs and Turkomen raised new objections, calling for a deadline to be imposed on the committee and for the removal of the three-man presidential council from the process.
The parliament approved a provincial elections law earlier this year despite a Kurdish boycott, but it was vetoed by President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, and his two deputies.
Parliament adjourned until Thursday, when it will try again to overcome the impasse. The United Nations has warned further delay could prevent the balloting from being held this year.