US soldier killed in blast near Tikrit
( 2003-11-04 11:35) (Agencies)
A U.S. soldier with the 4th Infantry Division was killed and another wounded in an explosion of an makeshift bomb near Tikrit, the U.S. Central Command said Monday.
Also, witnesses reported that a blast near a Shiite Muslim shrine in the southern city of Karbala killed at least one person.
Meanwhile, American troops hunted for anti-aircraft missiles along Iraq's trucking routes, digging through heaps of manure, mounds of hay or piles of pomegranates Monday. Also, the U.S. Army retrieved the wreckage of a downed transport helicopter, searching for clues about who knocked it from the sky the day before.
One clue in Sunday's helicopter shootdown may lie in Ramadi, west of the crash site, where an anti-U.S. leaflet warned, just two days before the shootdown, that Iraq's insurgents would strike the Americans with "modern and advanced methods."
The downing of the CH-47 Chinook, one of two carrying dozens of soldiers on their way to Baghdad airport and home leave, killed 16 Americans and wounded 20 others. It was the heaviest U.S. death toll in any single action since the invasion of Iraq last March 20.
One victim, Ernest Bucklew, 33, had been expected to stop at his Fort Carson, Colo., home before traveling to his mother's funeral. His wife, Barbara, wept as she spoke of breaking the news to the couple's two children, 8-year-old Joshua and 4-year-old Justin.
"My oldest one is just a little numb," she said at the Army post near Colorado Springs, Colo., shrouded in fog and a cold rain. "He understands his nana and father passed away, but he hasn't talked about it. The youngest one just doesn't understand. He doesn't understand the concept of death right now."
Sixteen of the injured were flown by U.S. Air Force C-17 transport Monday to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and treated at the U.S. military's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Nine were admitted to the intensive care unit, including five in serious condition, said hospital spokeswoman Marie Shaw.
"They are being evaluated and surgeries are planned throughout the day," she said.
Villagers who saw the helicopter downing south of Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, said it was struck from behind by one or two missiles apparently fired from a date palm grove in the area, deep in the Sunni Muslim heartland that has produced the most violent opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
CBS Evening News quoted one wounded survivor at a U.S. military hospital in Baghdad shortly after the crash. Cpl. David Tennant said the missile hit the back of the Chinook, and the helicopter caught fire before it went down.
"Everybody was just laid out everywhere, and they were trying to search for most of the people that were left within the rubble. There was a lot of people screaming," Tennant told CBS. "I just remember waking up in the middle of the rubble, trying to escape, trying to get out of the burning metal."
Hundreds of portable, shoulder-fired missiles are unaccounted for in Iraq, potential threats to a U.S. occupation army that relies heavily on the slow, low-flying CH-47 Chinook craft for troop transport. The U.S. command has offered Iraqis $500 apiece for each portable missile turned in but has refused to say how many have been surrendered.
In one search operation Monday, U.S. military police stretched out razor wire and set up checkpoints along the main artery running north from Baghdad, now dubbed "Highway 1," to look for weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles.
"We have had indication that more of stuff like this (missiles) are moving out there," said Lt. Col. Dave Poirier, commander of the 720th Military Police Battalion. "People know they are taking a big chance in transporting weapons ... and for some of these large weapons systems, you'd have to have a truck to transport it."
Spc. Andrew Fifield of San Antonio jumped on top of a truck transporting pomegranates and picked through the fruit carefully.
As he dug through dried manure atop a second truck, he motioned to Iraqi policemen to join him. None did.
"A lot of them were not police as we'd know police back home to be," Poirier said. "Some of them were never policemen before this."
Few details were available about the attack that killed the 4th Infantry Division solider. Central Command said in a news release that the attack happened at 2:40 p.m. Monday and that the soldier's name was being withheld upending family notification.
It said the wounded soldier was in stable condition.
The explosion in Karbala, 65 miles south of Baghdad, apparently was caused by a bomb planted in a parked car on a busy street less than 100 yards from the gold-domed Imam Hussein shrine, said Mohammed Abu Jaffar al-Assadi, a Shiite cleric. Other witnesses said it might have been concealed in a bag left outside a hotel.
In addition to at least one dead, it was believed 12 people were wounded, al-Assadi said. It was not immediately possible to get confirmation.
As a result of Sunday's shootdown, the U.S. command may have to re-evaluate the routes and flying tactics of its transport helicopters and planes over Iraq.
The SA-7 Strela portable missiles known to have been in Iraqi hands, weapons that home in on the engine heat of an aircraft, can be fired to an altitude of 14,000 feet, easily covering the usual cruising altitude of a heavily laden Chinook.
Another shoulder-fired missile in the old Iraqi army's inventory, the advanced SA-18 Iglas, is equipped with special filters to defeat flares and other countermeasures deployed by U.S. aircraft.
The apparent successful use of such a weapon in Sunday's attack is a sign of the increasing sophistication of Iraq's elusive anti-U.S. resistance, whose attacks have intensified in recent weeks.
At the site Monday, a giant crane lifted pieces of wreckage onto a truck, as soldiers sealed off the immediate area. Villager Jamal Abed, 22, said U.S. troops came to his house Monday morning and told him, through an interpreter, that "if American forces were subjected to fire, they will open fire on every house in the area."
In other developments:
_A neighborhood council chairman in west Baghdad, Mustafa Zaidan al-Khaleefa, 47, was fatally shot from a passing car late Sunday. Numerous Iraqi local and national officials cooperating with the occupation have been targeted for assassination.
_In the southern city of Basra, some 1,500 members of a new Iraqi security guard force protested outside the mayor's office, seeking a higher bonus for Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
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