An Iraqi military helicopter crashed in a sandstorm, killing the seven Iraqis and one American service member on board, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Tuesday. It was a blow to efforts to rebuild the Iraqi Air Force.
The Iraqi Defense Ministry said two Russian-built Mi-17 Hip transport helicopters were ferrying troops from the northern city of Tal Afar to Baghdad on Monday when they encountered bad weather south of Beiji. One aircraft was able to avoid the storm, but the other crashed, said Muhammad Askari, a ministry spokesman.
Askari said the helicopter crew was made up of an Iraqi and a foreigner, but did not specify the latter's nationality. The U.S. military later confirmed the foreigner was an American. All six passengers were Iraqis, Askari said.
It was the deadliest helicopter crash in Iraq since a U.S. Black Hawk went down during night maneuvers in northern Iraq on Aug. 22, killing all 14 troops on board.
Under congressional pressure, the State Department agreed Tuesday to retain nine inspectors from the U.S. Agency for International Development in Iraq to oversee reconstruction, health and other aid programs.
The group of USAID inspectors based in Baghdad had faced reduction to two members. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., had written to Secretary of States Condoleezza Rice to say that "without a strong oversight presence on the ground in Iraq, American tax dollars are vulnerable to waste or abuse."
U.S. military officials accused Iran of continuing to train and arm insurgents in Iraq, while U.S. legislators said they were disappointed that Baghdad opened up its doors to Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "I think it's offensive," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Levin's remarks came as senior military commanders say Iran continues to provide bombs to Shiite militias. "We have no doubt they are still supporting insurgents," said Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the former No. 2 military commander. He said the flow of munitions from Iran remained one of the greatest threats to stability in Iraq.
The Marine Corps is investigating a video on YouTube that purports to show one of their men throwing a puppy from a cliff in Iraq. The video has unleashed furious condemnation from viewers since Monday. "The video is shocking and deplorable and is contrary to the high standards we expect of every Marine," said a Marine statement issued Monday. "We do not tolerate this type of behavior and will take appropriate action." In the 17-second video, two Marines in combat gear smile as one holds up a motionless puppy by its neck and throws it over a cliff.
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