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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 October, 2003, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
US helicopter crashes in Iraq
US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (left) was in Tikrit hours earlier
Paul Wolfowitz was full of praise for Iraqi recruits
A US Army helicopter has crashed near the town of Tikrit in Iraq after reportedly being hit by ground fire.

Witnesses said they saw a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Black Hawk helicopter which came down in a field near an American base.

US officials says an investigation is under way into the cause of the crash which injured one soldier.

Tikrit, the home town of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, has seen continued resistance to US forces.

The helicopter came down and burst into flames, sending up a massive plume of smoke within sight of a major US base in Tikrit.

Some US soldiers as well as witnesses told reporters the aircraft was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG).

But a US military spokeswoman said it was only known so far that the helicopter was attacked by RPGs once it was on the ground.

One of the five crew members on board was hurt.


Tikrit lies in the heart of the "Sunni Triangle" - the region around Baghdad seen as most loyal to the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein and which has seen daily attacks against US forces.

The helicopter was one of two flying over the area

US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was in Tikrit just hours before the crash to meet US troops as part of a three-day visit to Iraq.

Amid reports of low morale among US troops, Mr Wolfowitz has been keen to deliver a positive message during his visit to Iraq.

He praised members of the new Iraqi Civil Defence Corps being trained by US soldiers in Tikrit.

He also pledged to push for more money from the US Congress for their training so they can assume a greater role in maintaining security.

"These young Iraqis are stepping forward to fight for their country along with us," Mr Wolfowitz told reporters at the US military base there.

Mr Wolfowitz has also said that Washington is looking to speed up the formation of a new Iraqi army.

He also indicated that officers from Saddam Hussein's old army might be hired provided they had clean records.

The BBC's June Kelly
"It's unclear what caused the helicopter to crash"


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