01/26 - U.S. searches for missing GI, two pilots - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

01/26 - U.S. searches for missing GI, two pilots

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Posted: Monday, January 26, 2004 9:34 am | Updated: 4:40 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

BAGHDAD, Iraq -U.S. forces aided by Iraqis searched the muddy waters of the Tigris River on Monday in northern Iraq for a soldier and two pilots missing after a helicopter crashed while searching for a patrol boat that had capsized.

Separately, a man was killed when he stepped on a roadside bomb as he got off a bus in a Baghdad suburb on Monday, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps 2nd Lt. Mustafa Tariq said. The explosion left the bus badly mangled and wounded three other passengers, one critically, he said.

Two Iraqi policemen and an Iraqi translator accompanying the American soldiers in the patrol boat were killed in the incident, said a military spokeswoman. But one soldier was still missing while three others survived, she said.

The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter, attached to the 101st Airborne Division, crashed in the Tigris in the northern town of Mosul on Sunday evening during a search-and-rescue mission a little more than an hours later, and both crew members were missing. The U.S. military said in a statement that both crashes "were not the result of enemy action" according to initial indications.

"Search efforts are still under way for the three soldiers utilizing all available assets" with the help of Iraqi police and fire department, said the statement received Monday.

In other violence, four Iraqi policemen manning a checkpoint outside Ramadi west of Baghdad were killed Sunday in a drive-by shooting, police Lt. Col. Saad Someir said. He said gunmen also killed three policemen at another checkpoint in Ramadi on Sunday.

Elsewhere, security guards killed an Iraqi in a shootout Sunday after his gang tried to break through a wall of a bank in the northern city of Kirkuk, the U.S. Army said Monday. Two other gang members were wounded. The fourth man carrying an AK-47 rifle fled on foot before U.S. forces secured the area.

The Kiowa Warrior was the fifth U.S. helicopter to crash in Iraq this month. Three others were brought down by enemy fire and a fourth, also a Kiowa Warrior, crashed Friday south of Mosul soon after takeoff, killing both pilots. The reason was not clear.

The three missing service members were with the 101st Airborne Division, according to the statement.

The News Tribune of Tacoma newspaper, which has a reporter embedded with the division, said the helicopter went down on the east bank of the Tigris just across from the populous old part of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. When rescuers reached the helicopter, they found no one aboard, the Washington-based newspaper said, quoting unidentified officials.

Witnesses said a U.S. patrol came under rocket propelled grenade fire in Mosul on Monday but there were no casualties.

The crashes add to the mounting losses for American forces as the U.S.-led civil administration prepares to hand over power to a sovereign Iraqi government on July 1.

That plan - which envisages a non-elected government to take over after regional caucuses - has run into stiff opposition from a powerful Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, who wants direct elections.

U.S. officials say the continuing violence and the absence of an electoral roll or a census make it impossible to hold early elections. However, the United States cannot afford to offend the Shiite leadership, because Shiites are estimated to comprise about 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people.

"The clerics' opinion is the opinion of the Iraqi people in general," Muwafaq al-Rubaei, a Shiite member of the U.S.-installed Governing Council, said Sunday after meeting with al-Sistani.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to announce this week, possibly Monday, whether to send a team to Iraq to assess if early polls are possible as requested by the United States.

Washington hopes that the involvement of the United Nations will help break the deadlock and satisfy the Shiites.

The Bush administration also must deal with claims by David Kay, the outgoing chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction.

"I don't think they exist," Kay said Sunday on National Public Radio. "The fact that we found so far the weapons do not exist - we've got to deal with that difference and understand why."

Kay's remarks reignited criticism from Democrats in the United States.

"You truly should go to war as a matter of last resort," Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry told CBS' "60 Minutes" in an interview to air Sunday night. "I'm afraid the president rushed to war without a plan to win the peace."

Also Sunday, U.S. troops arrested nearly 50 people in raids in the Sunni Triangle in central Iraq after attacks in the volatile region killed six American soldiers.

The deaths raised to 513 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the United States and its allies launched the Iraq war March 20. Most of the deaths have occurred in the insurgency by Saddam loyalists since President Bush declared an end to major hostilities May 1.

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