US helicopter crashes in Iraq, seven killed

Seven US soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash in southern Iraq, the US military has said. A military spokesman indicated that it appeared a mechanical failure had caused the crash.


BAGHDAD - Seven U.S. soldiers were killed when a Chinook
transport helicopter crashed in southern Iraq on Thursday,
the U.S. military said.

A military spokesman said it appeared mechanical failure was
the cause of the crash of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter just
after midnight.

"Right now it appears it was not hostile activity. It appears to
be a mechanical malfunction," the spokesman said.

He said the total number of personnel on board the
helicopter was seven. The original number killed had been put at
five, with two soldiers missing. The remains of those two
soldiers were later found, the spokesman said.

The helicopter was part of an aerial convoy flying from
neighbouring Kuwait to the Balad U.S. military air base in Iraq.

The crash took place about 100 km (60 miles) west of the
southern Iraqi city of Basra.

The U.S. military in Iraq mostly uses Apache attack
helicopters as well as Black Hawks, which are usually deployed
to transport small numbers of soldiers around the country.

The larger twin-engine Chinooks have the capacity to carry
dozens of people.

The U.S. military said 69 helicopters have crashed in Iraq
since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The Brookings Institution's
Iraq Index says 36 of those were due to enemy fire.


With violence at four-year lows in Iraq, the United States
has been gradually withdrawing troops from the country.

Washington and Baghdad are currently negotiating a security
deal that will pave the way for an eventual large-scale
withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said a "critical" situation
awaited the United States and Iraq if a deal was not signed by
the end of the year, when a U.N. mandate giving U.S. troops the
legal right to operate in Iraq expires.

Maliki reiterated Iraq's key demands on Iraqi television
late on Wednesday, and said Baghdad was waiting for a response
from Washington.

"More than once the talks were closed, then opened, then
closed, then opened. In the end they asked for 10 to 14 days to
consult in Washington on Iraq's demands, and the time has
ended," he told TV editors in a question and answer session.

"Till now, the American team has not returned with an
answer," he added.

Maliki also insisted the United States had agreed all
American troops would leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

Last month he announced both sides had agreed U.S. troops
would depart by then. But U.S. officials have declined to
confirm details of the pact until it is concluded.

Maliki said if the deal was not signed by the end of the
year, the U.N. mandate would only be extended on Iraq's terms.

The Pentagon will pull 8,000 more soldiers from Iraq by
February, leaving 138,000 troops deployed there. All five extra
combat brigades sent to Iraq last year completed their
withdrawal in July and have not been replaced.

Despite a drop in overall violence, the Bush administration
has taken a cautious approach to troop cuts and any decision on
a major withdrawal will be left to the next U.S. president, who
takes office in January.

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