Two dead as US copter downed in Iraq
* UN team arrives in Iraq
* Russia, France seek international Iraq conference
* White House expects Iraq debt relief this year
BAGHDAD: Two US pilots died on Friday when their helicopter came down in northern Iraq, the US military said.
A statement said the Kiowa helicopter came down at about 8:30 p.m. (1730 GMT) northwest of the town of Qayara in northern Iraq, but that the cause of the crash was not known and an accompanying helicopter did not mention any hostile activity. Iraq’s top Shiite cleric called Friday for a halt to protests against the US-led coalition’s plans for the transfer of power, amid the arrival of the first UN mission here in three months.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani ordered his followers to give the world body time to organize an evaluation mission. A spokesman for Annan said the first two-person team’s focus would be to “liaise” with the coalition on security questions after the UN’s three-month absence from Baghdad.
“We look forward to working with the team while it’s on the ground to provide the necessary security and help them implement the security that they require,” said a US spokesman. “We think it’s a positive step.” Russia and France, which opposed the US invasion of Iraq, called on Friday for an international conference to discuss rebuilding the country amid efforts to put together a government under national control.
The two countries’ foreign ministers made the suggestion after a day of talks, but offered few details on an agenda or time frame. The White House said on Friday it expected many countries to begin reducing Iraq’s foreign debt burden starting this year. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President George W. Bush would receive an update on Iraq debt forgiveness talks over lunch with special envoy James Baker.
US Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi called on Friday for direct elections before a sovereignty handover, raising pressure on Washington to yield to the demands of the Shi’ite majority.
Two members of the Iraqi Communist Party were killed when a bomb went off outside the party’s Baghdad offices, the party said in a statement Friday.
An Iraqi father and son were arrested in connection with a mortar attack that killed two US soldiers and seriously wounded another at a base near Baquba, a US military spokesman said Friday.
In Kirkuk, unknown assailants Friday killed an Iraqi policeman as he manned a checkpoint on the road to Baghdad. In Baquba, soldiers from the 3rd Battalion arrested six people and confiscated two AK-47 assault rifles, a pellet gun and stolen medical supplies, the military said. —Agencies