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Helicopter Crash Kills 31 Marines In Iraq

26 January 2005 -- A U.S. Marine Corps transport helicopter crashed in Iraq early today, killing all 31 Marines aboard.

In attacks against Iraqi targets today, the mayor of Sinjar in northern Iraq said 15 people were killed and 30 were wounded when a car bomb exploded at the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. And car bombs killed seven Iraqis in the northern city of Kirkuk.

The Marine Corps said in a statement that the helicopter was carrying troops on operations near Al-Rutbah in western Iraq when it crashed. It said that the cause of the crash is unknown and that hostile fire has not been ruled out.

This was the deadliest single incident for U.S. forces since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. In Washington, President George W. Bush said at a news conference that the crash is being investigated: "I know that it is being investigated by the Defense Department and, obviously, anytime we lose life it is a sad moment."

In the press conference, Bush urged Iraqis to turn out to vote and to defy insurgents seeking to disrupt the 30 January elections. But the website of Iraqi Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group quoted al-Zarqawi as warning Iraqis to stay away from the polls.

A U.S. soldier was killed and two others wounded when insurgents attacked their patrol near the northern town of Daluiyah. Four U.S. marines died in combat in western Iraq. And a car bomb exploded on the road leading from Baghdad's international airport as a U.S. military convoy passed, wounding four U.S. soldiers.

(News agencies, RFE/RL)