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Leaflets Warned of Attack Before US Helicopter was Shot Down

Leaflets Warned of Attack Before US Helicopter was Shot Down

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FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) -- Leaflets seen in mosques in this tense Sunni Muslim region warned of new attacks using "modern and advanced methods" only days before insurgents brought down a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter, killing 16 and wounding 20 others.

The Sunday missile attack on the helicopter, carrying dozens of soldiers on their way home for leave, was the deadliest single strike against U.S. forces since the war began March 20.

Three other Americans -- one 1st Armored Division soldier and two civilians working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- were also killed Sunday in separate attacks, making it the bloodiest day for U.S. forces since March 23.

At the Chinook crash site, near the Euphrates River farming village of Hasi, just south of Fallujah, a giant crane lifted pieces of wreckage onto a truck. Soldiers sealed off the immediate area, deep in the "Sunni Triangle" that has produced the most violent opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Witnesses said the attackers used shoulder-fired missiles against the Chinook, a sign of the increasing sophistication of Iraq's elusive anti-U.S. fighters as the insurgency intensifies.

The large twin-rotor helicopter was flying with a second Chinook headed for Baghdad International Airport when two missiles streaked into the sky and slammed into the rear of the aircraft, witnesses told The Associated Press. It crashed in flames in farmers' fields west of Baghdad.

An unsigned leaflet posted Friday at mosques in the area, where anti-American sentiment runs high, urged people to avoid public places over the weekend. "Special operations against occupation forces might be carried out by using modern and advanced methods," the leaflet said.

The leaflet also warned people stay at home, avoid going to work or school and stay away from markets Saturday and Sunday. "Any persons who move during this period will be responsible for their own safety," the note said.

U.S. officials have blamed Saddam Hussein loyalists, foreign fighters and Islamic extremists for the stepped up attacks on the U.S. occupation.

On Monday, 16 U.S. soldiers wounded in the helicopter attack arrived in Germany for treatment at an American military hospital. Eleven of the soldiers were in intensive care but stable condition, while five others were in the main ward with lesser injuries, said U.S. Army Col. Rhonda Cornum, commander of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

The soldiers -- 15 men and one woman -- were among nearly 30 soldiers who arrived early Monday at Ramstein Air Base aboard a C-17 transport aircraft. A 17th soldier injured in the attack was to arrive Tuesday morning, said Marie Shaw, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed his regret over the shootdown, saying the past week had been a "particularly grim seven days" in terms of casualties, a spokesman said Monday.

"It's clearly a tragic day for America," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday in Washington. "In a long, hard war, we're going to have tragic days. But they're necessary. They're part of a war that's difficult and complicated."

L. Paul Bremer, the head of the occupation in Iraq, repeated demands that Syria and Iran prevent fighters from crossing their borders into Iraq.

"They could do a much better job of helping us seal that border and keeping terrorist out of Iraq," he told the cable network CNN. The "enemies of freedom" in Iraq "are using more sophisticated techniques to attack our forces."

The violence continued late Sunday, when five shells exploded in different neighborhoods in the northern oil city of Kirkuk, killing one Iraqi and injuring eight, Jalal Jawher, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan official said on Monday. "They were randomly fired. There are no U.S. bases in those areas," he said.

On Saturday, fire broke out at an oil pipeline in Samara, 60 miles northwest of Baghdad after it was hit by a bomb, an oil official said under condition of anonymity. The pipeline runs between northern Kirkuk to a Baghdad refinery.

A second explosion occurred Saturday on the pipeline between Saddam's hometown of Tikrit and Beiji, the site of Iraq's largest refinery on an LPG line that links Kirkuk to Taji gas factory in Baghdad.

The area has seen widespread resistance to the U.S.-led occupation. Constant sabotage to pipelines and the decayed state of Iraqi's infrastructure have slowed efforts to revive the country's giant oil industry.

U.S. officials have been warning of the danger of shoulder-fired missiles, hundreds of which are now scattered from Saddam's arsenals, and such missiles are believed to have downed two U.S. copters since May 1. Those two crashes -- of smaller helicopters -- wounded only one American.

The loaded-down Chinook was a dramatic new target. The insurgents have been steadily advancing in their weaponry, first using homemade roadside bombs, then rocket-fired grenades in ambushes on American patrols, and vehicles stuffed with explosives and detonated by suicide attackers.

The Pentagon announced Friday it was expanding the rest and recreation leave program for troops in Iraq. As of Sunday, it said, the number of soldiers departing daily to the United States via neighboring Kuwait would be increased from 280 to 480.

With the helicopter crash, at least 139 American soldiers have been killed by hostile fire since Bush declared an end to combat on May 1. Around 377 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq.

The death toll Sunday surpassed one of the deadliest single attacks during the Iraq war: the March 23 ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company, in which 11 soldiers were killed, nine were wounded and seven captured, including Pfc. Jessica Lynch. A total of 28 Americans around Iraq died that day, the deadliest for U.S. troops during the war.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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