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Iraq: Baghdad Claims U.S. Helicopter Downed, Pilots Killed

Prague, 30 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf said Iraqi forces downed a U.S. helicopter, killing its crew of two. Al-Sahhaf told a news conference today in Baghdad the helicopter was shot down near the southern city of Basra. "Yesterday, the fighters of the Iraqi tribes with other fighters of our people, they shot down an [U.S.] Apache helicopter and killed the two pilots. Another Apache [escaped]. And they buried there the two pilots," al-Sahhaf said. The Pentagon said it had no reports of downed aircraft.

The U.S.-led bombardment of Baghdad continued today, with the U.S. military saying it is targeting presidential palaces and paramilitary training sites. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

South of Baghdad, U.S. Army infantry are engaging Iraqi Republican Guard forces near the city of Karbala. Our correspondent reports the fighting follows two days of air strikes and missile attacks on Republican Guard positions there.

In fighting near Basra today, a British military spokesman said Royal Marine commandos captured an Iraqi general and killed another senior officer in clashes with Iraqi paramilitaries.