BAGHDAD — An Iraqi military helicopter crashed in a sandstorm, killing the seven Iraqis and one American service member on board, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Tuesday.
The crash was a blow to the Iraqi military's efforts to rebuild its air force, which was devastated during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and never recovered.
The Iraqi Defense Ministry said two Russian-built Mi-17 transport helicopters were ferrying troops from the northern city of Tal Afar to Baghdad on Monday when they encountered bad weather south of Baiji. One aircraft was able to avoid the storm, but the other crashed, said Mohammed Askari, a ministry spokesman.
American search and rescue teams located the wreckage just before noon Tuesday in the largely desert region between Baiji and Lake Tharthar. Askari blamed the weather for the crash, but the U.S. statement said the cause remained under investigation. Names of the victims were withheld pending notification of their families.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military said it killed three extremists in an effort to capture an al-Qaida in Iraq leader in eastern Baghdad. The targeted individual was not killed, but three associates were when they failed to heed troops' demands that they halt their vehicle. A civilian was injured in the clash, the statement said.
Information from the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.