BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Seven U.S. soldiers were killed when a Chinook transport helicopter crashed in southern Iraq on Thursday, the U.S. military said.
A military spokesman said it appeared mechanical failure was the cause of the crash of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter just after midnight.
“Right now it appears it was not hostile activity. It appears to be a mechanical malfunction,” the spokesman said.
He said the total number of personnel on board the helicopter was seven. The original number killed had been put at five, with two soldiers missing. The remains of those two soldiers were later found, the spokesman said.
The helicopter was part of an aerial convoy flying from neighboring Kuwait to the Balad U.S. military air base in Iraq.
The crash took place about 100 km (60 miles) west of the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
The U.S. military in Iraq mostly uses Apache attack helicopters as well as Black Hawks, which are usually deployed to transport small numbers of soldiers around the country.
The larger twin-engine Chinooks have the capacity to carry dozens of people.
The U.S. military said 69 helicopters have crashed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index says 36 of those were due to enemy fire.
US-IRAQI TALKS CRITICAL
With violence at four-year lows in Iraq, the United States has been gradually withdrawing troops from the country.
Washington and Baghdad are currently negotiating a security deal that will pave the way for an eventual large-scale withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said a “critical” situation awaited the United States and Iraq if a deal was not signed by the end of the year, when a U.N. mandate giving U.S. troops the legal right to operate in Iraq expires.
Maliki reiterated Iraq’s key demands on Iraqi television late on Wednesday, and said Baghdad was waiting for a response from Washington.
“More than once the talks were closed, then opened, then closed, then opened. In the end they asked for 10 to 14 days to consult in Washington on Iraq’s demands, and the time has ended,” he told TV editors in a question and answer session.
“Till now, the American team has not returned with an answer,” he added.
Maliki also insisted the United States had agreed all American troops would leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
Last month he announced both sides had agreed U.S. troops would depart by then. But U.S. officials have declined to confirm details of the pact until it is concluded.
Maliki said if the deal was not signed by the end of the year, the U.N. mandate would only be extended on Iraq’s terms.
The Pentagon will pull 8,000 more soldiers from Iraq by February, leaving 138,000 troops deployed there. All five extra combat brigades sent to Iraq last year completed their withdrawal in July and have not been replaced.
Despite a drop in overall violence, the Bush administration has taken a cautious approach to troop cuts and any decision on a major withdrawal will be left to the next U.S. president, who takes office in January.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas and Waleed Ibrahim, Editing by Matthew Jones