| Donald Rumsfeld
Mosul, Nov. 16 (Reuters): US troops retrieved bodies and wreckage today from two Black Hawk helicopters which came down under fire in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, killing at least 17 soldiers.
The heaviest US loss of life in a single incident since the invasion of Iraq in March came yesterday just hours after Washington set the country on a swifter passage to self-rule in a bid to calm Iraqi anger at occupation.
But defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted US troops would not begin leaving when a transitional government takes over sovereignty from occupying forces in June under a plan unveiled yesterday by Iraq’s US-appointed governing council.
US troops in Mosul said the Black Hawks collided last evening after one was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The official version of events remained unclear, however. The US army said an investigation was under way.
“We are moving bodies and debris from the scene now,” Major Trey Cate of the 101st Airborne Division Said near the crash site today. He said 17 soldiers had been killed and five wounded. Another soldier was “possibly unaccounted for”.
One Black Hawk slammed into the roof of a house in Mosul’s Bab Sinjar neighbourhood. The second hit a school building. Somehow, neither appeared to have inflicted civilian casualties in the crowded residential area near the city centre.
Fawwaz Saleh, a 36-year-old lawyer who lives two doors away from the house hit by one of the helicopters, said gunfire had been heard in the area before the Black Hawks moved in. “One of them started hovering at a fixed spot above, very close. This drowned out all other noise. We heard a loud explosion which shook our windows, and the sound of rotor blades going slower,” he said. “Then they stopped and we heard a loud crash. I saw rotor blades sticking through the roof. We saw a pilot pulling a soldier from the cockpit.”
The unrelenting violence is a key factor pushing Washington to install a provisional government before a new constitution is prepared and elections held, reversing a sequence previously laid out in US-sponsored UN Security Council resolutions.
But Rumsfeld sought to dispel suggestions that US forces might start leaving once the provisional government is in place.
“There are no changes in the security situation,” he said in Japan. “We are on the map we were on last week, last month. This has nothing to do with US troops in Iraq.” He said security in Iraq was on a “separate track” from the governing council’s timetable for political transition.
The Dubai-based Al Arabiya channel aired a purported audio tape by ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein today calling on Iraqis to wage a holy war against occupying forces and warning of more deaths for US-led troops.
“Fighting them...is a legitimate, patriotic and humanitarian duty and the occupiers have no choice but to leave our country Iraq, the country of Arabs and Islam, as cursed losers,” the speaker, who sounded like Saddam, said. The speaker on the tape said it had been proven that Washington lied on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.