Iraqis Cheer Downing of British Chopper genre: Just Jihad

British sources confirmed that a helicopter crashed in a residential area of Basra. Early reports indicate that it appears to have been shot down by ground fire. A large crowd of Iraqis chanted and cheered in the area around the wreckage and after some rescue vehicles were set ablaze, British troops opened fire in some skirmishes with the crowd. Four crew members were thought to have been killed in the crash and some Iraqis were injured in the ensuing melee.

This can't be good news for the already troubled Blair government. It also points out the growing negative sentiment towards the occupying forces in Iraq. The reaction surprised some observers as Basra has been relatively peaceful. Basra's population is largely Shiite. Reuters reports the following.

British defense officials confirmed one of their helicopters was down and that there were casualties. The Basra police spokesman said it was hit by a rocket and firefighters said they found four charred bodies on the aircraft, which hit a house.

Dominated by the Shi'ite Muslim majority now in control in Baghdad, Basra has seen less violence than cities in the north. But friction between the occupying force and militia groups like the Mehdi Army of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr does flare up.

"Victory to the Mehdi Army!" chanted the crowd of young men that gathered at the crash site, close to the local governor's office in the center of the city.

Senior British officers have complained that rival Shi'ite militia factions have effectively taken control of different elements of Iraq's second city, close to the Gulf and the border with Shi'ite Iran, 550 km (340 miles) south of Baghdad.

Sunni Arab insurgents, including al Qaeda's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, have said they are taking their battle to the Iraqi forces, targeting recruiting lines and senior officers.

Helicopters have been much more vulnerable to ground fire, including rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Rebels boast of firing guided missiles. On April 1, a U.S. Apache attack helicopter was brought down near Baghdad, killing its two crew.

Daniel DiRito | May 6, 2006 | 7:50 AM
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