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Tikrit attack downs Black Hawk copter

Tikrit, Oct. 25 (Reuters): Iraqi guerrillas fired rocket-propelled grenades at a US Black Hawk helicopter which came down near Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit today, wounding one American soldier.

Initial reports had said five soldiers were wounded.

As the aircraft blazed on the ground within sight of a major US base, soldiers told a Reuters photographer at the scene that a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) hit it in the air. But a US military spokeswoman in Baghdad said it was unclear what brought it down, only that RPGs were fired on the wreck.

“After the aircraft was on the ground, it was attacked with RPGs,” she said, saying it was “presently not known” what brought the Black Hawk down.

She said only one soldier was wounded among the crew of five who were rescued by a second helicopter from green, low-lying farmland about three km east of the US military base.

Reuters photographer Damir Sagolj heard a loud bang before the helicopter fell from the sky.

Rocket attacks are a daily fact of life for the US forces on the ground.

But there has been only one report of hostile fire bringing down aircraft since major combat was declared over on May 1, despite American fears about the availability of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles in Iraq.

US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of Washington’s campaign against Saddam, had left the Tikrit base by helicopter for Kirkuk in the north just hours earlier, after visiting troops engaged in one of the main hotspots of Iraqi resistance to the occupation forces.

Visiting Iraq for the second time in three months, Wolfowitz stressed the importance of speeding up the formation of a new Iraqi army, police force, border guard and civil defence corps. He also questioned why the Iraqi civil defence corps is projected to have 22,000 personnel instead of 100,000.

Tikrit is around 175 km north of Baghdad, near the apex of the “Sunni Triangle”, where many of Saddam’s fellow Sunnis have opposed US occupiers.

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