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Helicopter Collision in Iraq Kills 17 US Soldiers
VOA News
15 Nov 2003, 22:53 UTC

Two U.S. Army helicopters have crashed in Iraq after colliding over the northern city of Mosul. At least 17 soldiers are dead, five wounded and one unaccounted for.

Reports quoting witnesses on the ground say at least one of the 101st Airborne Division Blackhawk helicopters was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade or gunfire and then veered into the other aircraft. The Army says it is still investigating and has reached no conclusions. There is no word on Iraqi casualties.

Earlier Saturday in Baghdad, the president of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi National Council, Jalal Talabani, announced that a formal Iraqi provisional government will take over from occupying forces by the end of June. It would be selected by a transitional assembly to be picked in May by caucuses in each of Iraq's 18 provinces.

Mr. Talabani said the continued presence of coalition forces in Iraq will be discussed by the new government, which would also draft a constitution and hold elections by the end of 2005.

President Bush issued a statement welcoming the new timetable, saying it is an important step toward democracy in the country.

The governing council announced the plan after meeting Saturday with Paul Bremer, the chief U.S. civil administrator in Iraq. Mr. Bremer had just returned to Baghdad from Washington after holding emergency talks with Mr. Bush on how to speed up the transfer of power.

Also in Baghdad Saturday, a roadside bomb killed one American soldier and wounded two others. Earlier this month, two U.S. helicopters were shot down in separate incidents, killing 21 Americans.

President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday that U.S. forces will remain in Iraq until it is free and peaceful. Mr. Rumsfeld vowed that U.S. forces will "outlast" the enemy.