Four Copter Losses Due to Ground Fire

All four U.S. helicopters that have crashed in Iraq since Jan. 20 appear to have been brought down by "some kind" of ground fire but it is unclear whether this represents any new threat to U.S. aviation.

Iraqis elsewhere in Baghdad faced another round of bombings and shootings on Sunday, with at least 22 people killed, including two cell phone company employees in a drive-by shooting and four policemen who were struck by a roadside bomb.

Iraqi soldiers also detained 32 militants and discovered four weapons caches in western Baghdad, seizing 1,128 mortar rounds, five rocket-propelled grenades, a rocket launcher, 50 anti-aircraft shells and other ammunition, according to the Defense Ministry.

Suspected Sunni attackers have appeared emboldened in recent weeks after radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, under pressure from fellow Shiites who dominate the government, ordered the thousands of gunmen in his Mahdi Army militia to avoid American attacks in the coming assault.

Saturday's death toll surpassed a Feb. 28, 2005, suicide car bomb targeting mostly Shiite police and national guard recruits in Hillah that killed 125.

In the hours after the explosion, Shiite and Sunni mortar teams traded fire across the darkened city. Two people were killed and 20 wounded in one predominantly Sunni district.

The White House called the bombing an atrocity. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the attack was "an example of what the forces of evil will do to intimidate the Iraqi people."

Maj. Gen. Jihad al-Jabiri of the Iraqi Interior Ministry said the truck had been packed with a ton of explosives.

An Iraqi militant group tied to al-Qaida in Iraq announced Saturday it had launched its own new strategy to counter the coming U.S.-Iraqi crackdown.

In an audiotape posted on a Web site commonly used by the insurgents, a voice purported to be that of Abu Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, also known as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, said the group would "widen the circle of battles" beyond Baghdad to all of Iraq. Al-Baghdadi heads The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of insurgent groups in Iraq.

The U.S. military reported the deaths of five more soldiers - four in fighting and one of an apparent heart attack. All died Friday.

Iraqi authorities said that 145 people were killed or were found dead Saturday, including those killed in the market bombing. Of the total, 19 were found dumped in the capital, most of the bodies showing signs of torture.


Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin and Qais al-Bashir contributed to this report.

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