Iraq claims to have shot down two US helicopters
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Iraq claims to have shot down two US helicopters

Iraq claimed on Monday to have shot down two Apache helicopters and to holding two pilots prisoner.

india Updated: Mar 24, 2003 16:43 IST

Iraq claimed Monday to have shot down two Apache helicopters and to holding two pilots prisoner. "A small number of peasants shot down two Apaches," Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said. "Perhaps we will show pictures of the pilots."

Iraqi state television showed pictures of only one downed helicopter in a grassy field.

At the Pentagon, Air Force Master Sgt. Grant Windsor confirmed that one Apache was missing. He could give no details on the incident and said he had no information on the status of the pilots. He says the Defense Department is evaluating the tape being shown on Iraqi TV.

Men in Arab headdresses holding Kalashnikovs automatic rifles danced around the aircraft.

Iraqi state television also showed pictures of two helmets apparently belonging to members of the crew, as well as documents and other papers lying on the ground.

U.S. ground forces have begun engaging the elite Iraqi Republican Guard that ring Baghdad, launching helicopter attacks Sunday night against the Guard's Medina division, a senior military official said.

The helicopter shown on television Monday showed little if any signs of damage, suggesting it had been forced to land by mechanical problems rather than ground fire.

Sahhaf said that the government would consider displaying the other helicopter it claimed to have shot down.

The report of the downed helicopters and new prisoners of war came only one day after al-Jazeera showed video images of five American prisoners of war captured in fighting near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.

"Yesterday was a black day and the black days will increase," Sahhaf said.

Even so, Sahhaf said that Iraq's leadership _ including Saddam Hussein himself _ said the POWs would be treated according to the Geneva Conventions.

He rejected accusations that Iraq had violated such accords by allowing Iraqi television to film them and ask questions. Referring widely televised video images of Iraqi prisoners of war, Sahhaf claimed the men were actually civilians taken away at gunpoint by U.S. forces.

"Is no one supposed to tell them they acted inappropriately?" he asked. "These hypocrites! We tell them we abide by Geneva Conventions."

He accused allied forces of "crying tears of crocodiles," for attacking Iraq and finding the consequences unpleasant. He also said that Iraq was using all weapons at its disposal. "We use only weapons that we manufacture or already have," he said, without elaborating.

First Published: Mar 24, 2003 16:43 IST