1. Archive

Troops hunt for Iraqi missiles

American troops hunted for antiaircraft missiles along Iraq's trucking routes, digging through heaps of manure, mounds of hay and piles of pomegranates Monday. The U.S. Army retrieved the wreckage of a downed transport helicopter and searched for clues about who knocked it from the sky.

In Landstuhl, Germany, 16 American soldiers hurt in the deadly attack Sunday were being treated at a military hospital for broken bones, spinal fractures, burns and other injuries.

Eleven of the 16 are in critical or serious condition, but all are expected to survive, said Col. Rhonda Cornum, the commander of the Landstuhl medical center. The crash of the Chinook helicopter, in a farming village south of Fallujah, killed 16 soldiers and wounded 20. One of the soldiers being treated is a woman, the colonel said.

In Birmingham, Ala., President Bush blamed the guerrilla attacks in Iraq on terrorists trying to intimidate the United States, and he vowed to "never run" from the mounting chaos and casualties.

"We mourn every loss," Bush said. "We honor every name. We grieve with every family. And we will always be grateful that liberty has found such brave defenders."

Bush gave two speeches and made no specific reference to the helicopter downing. With polls showing a growing number of voters questioning the human and monetary cost of the occupation, Bush portrayed his ultimate goal in Iraq as preventing terrorist attacks in the United States.

"A free and peaceful Iraq will make it more likely that our children and grandchildren will be able to grow up without the horrors of Sept. 11," he said.

In Iraq, attacks continued Monday. A soldier with the 4th Infantry Division was killed and another wounded in an explosion of an improvised bomb near Tikrit, the U.S. Central Command said, and witnesses reported that a blast near a Shiite Muslim shrine in the southern city of Karbala killed at least one person.

One clue in Sunday's helicopter shootdown may lie in Ramadi, west of the crash site, where an anti-U.S. leaflet warned, just two days before the shootdown, that Iraq's insurgents would strike the Americans with "modern and advanced methods."

One soldier killed in the attack, Ernest Bucklew, 33, had been expected to stop at his Fort Carson, Colo., home before traveling to his mother's funeral. His wife, Barbara, wept as she spoke of breaking the news to the couple's two children, Joshua, 8, and Justin, 4.

"My oldest one is just a little numb," she said at the Army post near Colorado Springs, Colo. "He understands his nana and father passed away, but he hasn't talked about it. The youngest one just doesn't understand. He doesn't understand the concept of death right now."

In Germany, Cornum described the soldiers' injuries as typical of those sustained in a plane crash: "a lot of broken bones, a lot of compression, loss of consciousness from being knocked around."

Doctors have not yet determined whether some of the soldiers had also been wounded by a missile strike on the helicopter. "At some time, we'll probably be able to tell that," Cornum said. "Right now, I can't tell you."

A few of the soldiers are able to walk, the colonel said, and could probably be moved to the United States within days. Another soldier wounded in the attack is expected to arrive today.

Cornum said she had seen some of the soldiers, but had not yet heard any recollections of the attack.

Villagers who saw the helicopter downing south of Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, said it was struck from behind by one or two missiles apparently fired from a date palm grove in the area, deep in the Sunni Muslim heartland that has produced the most violent opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Hundreds of portable, shoulder-fired missiles are unaccounted for in Iraq, potential threats to a U.S. occupation army that relies heavily on the slow, low-flying CH-47 Chinook craft for troop transport. The U.S. command has offered Iraqis $500 apiece for each portable missile turned in but has refused to say how many have been surrendered.

In one search operation Monday, U.S. military police stretched out razor wire and set up checkpoints along the main artery running north from Baghdad, now dubbed "Highway 1," to look for weapons, including antiaircraft missiles.

"We have had indication that more of stuff like this (missiles) are moving out there," said Lt. Col. Dave Poirier, commander of the 720th Military Police Battalion. "People know they are taking a big chance in transporting weapons and for some of these large weapons systems, you'd have to have a truck to transport it."

Spc. Andrew Fifield of San Antonio, Texas, jumped on top of a truck transporting pomegranates and picked through the fruit carefully. As he dug through dried manure atop a second truck, he motioned to Iraqi policemen to join him. None did.

The explosion in Karbala, 65 miles south of Baghdad, apparently was caused by a bomb planted in a parked car on a busy street less than 100 yards from the gold-domed Imam Hussein shrine, said Mohammed Abu Jaffar al-Assadi, a Shiite cleric. Other witnesses said it might have been concealed in a bag left outside a hotel.

In addition to at least one dead, it was believed 12 people were wounded, al-Assadi said.

Karbala has been rocked by deadly clashes between supporters of rival Shiite factions.

In the capital, U.S. occupation authorities said three mortar rounds were lobbed from a firing position somewhere in southwestern Baghdad late Monday. Two landed in unspecified locations in central Baghdad, and the third struck a camp of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. No injuries were immediately reported.

As a result of Sunday's shootdown, the U.S. command may have to re-evaluate the routes and flying tactics of its transport helicopters and planes over Iraq.

The SA-7 Strela portable missiles known to have been in Iraqi hands, weapons that home in on the engine heat of an aircraft, can be fired to an altitude of 14,000 feet, easily covering the usual cruising altitude of a heavily laden Chinook.

The apparent successful use of such a weapon in Sunday's attack is a sign of the increasing sophistication of Iraq's elusive anti-U.S. resistance, whose attacks have intensified in recent weeks.

The U.S. command in Baghdad said the 82nd Airborne Division, umbrella unit for 12th Aviation Brigade operations in Iraq, was conducting the initial investigation into the downing of the brigade's Chinook.

At the site Monday, a crane lifted pieces of wreckage onto a truck, as soldiers sealed off the immediate area. Villager Jamal Abed, 22, said U.S. troops came to his house and told him that "if American forces were subjected to fire, they will open fire on every house in the area."

_ Information from the Associated Press, New York Times and Washington Post was used in this report.