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Few additional details were available Thursday about the helicopter crash that killed seven crewmembers and passengers Wednesday, though U.S. officials confirmed a previously unreported Jan. 31 crash of a private American security firm helicopter.

The private security helicopter was shot down last week while flying State Department contingents, officials said. The helicopter was hit by ground fire and forced down about 10 miles south of Baghdad; the passengers and crew were rescued by another American aircrew.

In all, five American helicopters — both military and civilian-run — have been shot down since Jan. 20. Though Iraqi witnesses claimed the Marine CH-46 Sea Knight also was shot down Wednesday near Karmah, U.S. officials have not suggested a cause for the crash.

A Sunni insurgent group has posted an Internet claim that it shot down the helicopter. American officials said mechanical failures could have led to the crash, and that an investigation is under way.

According to the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, at least 57 American military helicopters have been brought down — either by enemy fire or by sandstorms or mechanical problems — since May 2003.

Military officials, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said they are unsure whether the recent spate of incidents is simply bad luck or a change in tactics by the insurgents.

A pair of Arab media outlets reported claims of insurgents now having access to a more modern version of the Russian-made SA-7 Strela anti-aircraft missile. Those reports cited unnamed sources.


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