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Iraq: U.S. Helicopters Collide, Killing At Least 17

Baghdad, 16 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The United States military says at least 17 American soldiers have been killed in the mid-air collision and crash of two Black Hawk helicopters in northern Iraq. A statement by the U.S. command said five other soldiers were injured when the helicopters went down on the evening of 15 November in the city of Mosul. One soldier remains missing.

The statement did not list a cause for the collision, but earlier reports from the scene said at least one of the helicopters was the target of ground fire.

The death toll from the crash of the helicopters exceeds the 16 U.S. soldiers killed when a Chinook helicopter was shot down on 2 November near Al-Fallujah.

In other news, the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council announced plans for the U.S.-led coalition to transfer authority to a sovereign, transitional Iraqi government by next June.

In backing the plan, the Bush administration has dropped its previous plan for a new Iraqi constitution to be written and elections to held before the transfer of power takes place.

The plan now calls for a new constitution and elections before the end of 2005.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the new plan does not mean American troops will be withdrawing from the country any time soon. Rumsfeld told reporters today that the governing and security aspects in Iraq are on separate tracks.

Rumsfeld spoke to reporters as he visited Okinawa in Japan to meet with U.S. troops on the island and hold talks with local Japanese officials.