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Clashes follow British copter crash in Basra
Knight Ridder Newspapers
BAGHDAD, Iraq — A British military helicopter crashed into the center of the southern port city of Basra on Saturday, killing four soldiers and drawing several hundred mostly young men to the crash site, where they chanted in celebration as the chopper burned.
Six children were killed as British troops came under attack from Shiite militia members in the crowd, Iraqi officials said.
A shoulder-fired missile caused the crash, Iraqi police said.
The helicopter slammed into an empty two-story home at about 2 p.m., according to Maj. Sebastian Muntz, British military spokesman for the Multinational Division Southeast. British troops attempted to seal off the area, but the gathering crowd turned hostile, Muntz said. The melee lasted until 8:30, he said.
The British military would not release the number of soldiers killed or confirm the cause of the crash, citing an ongoing investigation. But witnesses saw four dead bodies inside the burning aircraft and Iraqi police confirmed the number.
Doctors at Basra's two main hospitals said six children were killed in the post-crash assault and that they were treating 46 people. Most of their injuries occurred, they said, when the crowd stampeded as young men attacked the British and their armored vehicles with gunfire, rocket-propelled grenades, Molotov cocktails and stones.
Hours later, Ahmed Ali, 25, stood before his home near the crash site and pointed to the blood on his track suit.
"I carried five dead children to the ambulances," he said. He said he watched a man in the crowd shoot a rocket-propelled grenade at the British and the soldiers respond with bullets. "They killed these children because of him," said Ali, whose account could not be confirmed.
Before they attacked the British troops, gunmen warned some onlookers to retreat to their homes, residents said.
Iraqi Security Forces imposed a curfew on Basra on Saturday night. Overhead, British military aircraft produced a constant ruckus.
Saturday's attack came as relations between the British military stationed in Basra and local police and authorities appeared to be improving. The British and the provincial council had recently agreed to work together after a six-month standoff, said Sharma Fagar, a British Ministry of Defense spokesman.
"It's not clear at all what would have caused this," Fagar said.
In other violence, one U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.
A suicide bomber wearing a military uniform exploded among a crowd of Iraqi soldiers inside a military base in Tikrit. Three Iraqi officers were killed and the brigade leader was wounded.
And a mortar hit a home in northwest Baghdad, killing two children and injuring one.
At least seven bodies with shots to the head surfaced today throughout the capital in the latest round of sectarian violence.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company