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Cause of chopper crash unclear

By Atul Aneja

BAGHDAD, JAN. 26. Thirty-one U.S. Marines were killed on Wednesday in a helicopter crash, marking the worst loss of life in a single day since the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Pentagon sources said the helicopter had gone down in bad weather near Iraq's border with Jordan. However, the U.S. military took several hours to release the details. The crash took place at 1:20 a.m. local time. The chopper was carrying troops from the first marine division. The helicopter went down near the town of Rutbah.

In another incident, guerillas killed four American troops in an ambush, near the town of Haditha, west of Baghdad. An embedded journalist with the troops told the Associated Press that a convoy of marines was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade as it left the town.

With these deaths, at least 1,407 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Iraq. The heavy casualties in the crash precede Iraq's controversial January 30 elections, which most of the Iraqi resistance is violently opposing.

Last month, a suicide bomber killed 22 persons, including 14 U.S. soldiers, during an attack on an army base in the northern city of Mosul.

In a day marked by violence, there have been a series of car bombing across the country. At least five persons were killed in a triple car bombing in the town of Riyadh, near the northern city of Kirkuk. In Baquba, north of Baghdad, guerillas attacked offices of a political party, killing at least one police officer. One person was also killed and two were wounded in a car bomb explosion in Tikrit.

Meanwhile, a video recording by guerillas showed three Iraqi captives, who said they were election workers.

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