One was upsetting. Two was “damn…” Three is “Oh shit….”
The trend is not good. This was the only safe way left to move around in Iraq, and now, it’s gone.
A U.S. helicopter was shot down early Sunday afternoon near the provincial capital Najaf during a pitched battle with fighters described as religious fanatics.
A McClatchy Newspapers correspondent from Najaf observed the helicopter lose control and crash to the ground in flames after it appeared to have been struck by rocket fired from the ground. The correspondent had been observing the battle from a safe position about half a mile away from the fight in the village of al Zarga.
Al Zarga is about 5 miles from Najaf and about 80 miles south of Baghdad.
No information on U.S. casualties was available. Military public affairs officials in Baghdad said Sunday afternoon they were unaware of the helicopter downing.
The correspondent observed the helicopter shot down about 1:35 p.m. Iraqi time Sunday (1:35 a.m. ADT).
The battle is being fought against alleged religious fanatics. Iraqi intelligence had received several reports that this group of fighters planned to attack the religious shrine in Karbala Wednesday, the holy day of Ashura, and to kill all the clerics.
The Iraqi officials told the correspondent that the fighters, whom he described as Saddamists and Afghanis, infiltrated the area as Ashura pilgrims commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.
The battle began with U.S. aerial bombardments Saturday night. Iraqi forces ground forces sealed off the area around 3 a.m. Sunday and begin an assault, assisted by U.S. helicopters and F-16 fighter jets.
Maj. Hussain Muhammed of the Iraqi Army confimed the helicopter was down. “We do not know any other details yet, but there are flames raising,” he said.