11 killed in Iraq helicopter crash, bombings

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BAGHDAD (AP) — A sandstorm downed an Iraqi military helicopter Wednesday, killing its five-man crew, while midmorning Baghdad bombings claimed the lives of six people, officials said.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said the helicopter was flying to provide air protection to Shiite pilgrims traveling by road to the holy city of Karbala, when it crashed in the sandstorm early in the morning.

The crash is under investigation, and no other details were immediately available, al-Askari said.

Thousands of pilgrims are headed to Karbala, located 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad, for an important religious holiday marking the birth of a Shiite saint known as the “Hidden Imam” who disappeared in the ninth century.

Such mass displays of devotion by Shiites have often been targeted by Sunni extremists. Just a day earlier, six people were killed and dozens more wounded when a female suicide bomber blew herself up near a Karbala security checkpoint.

Meanwhile, two midmorning bombings in Baghdad killed six people and injured 15 others in the eastern Shiite slum of Sadr City, police and health officials said.

The bombs, which went off close to each other about 9:15 a.m., were planted near a state-run bank where retirees were waiting to get their pensions, the officials said.

The dead included three men, two women and one Iraqi security official, officials said.

The three officials — two policemen and a doctor — spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

There has been a decline of violence across Iraq over the last two years, but low-level attacks do continue, especially in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital.