A media adviser for the defense ministry, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Al-Askari, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “one of our military aircraft was shot down after being hit by gunfire during clashes with an armed group in Bayji.”
He added that “the incident took place on Wednesday morning and the helicopter was damaged. We are waiting for the final report about the incident to establish what happened during these clashes, especially that his was an attempt to attack a military base.”
Askari denied reports that said a second helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing. He said “only one aircraft was subject to an attack and was shot down, and any other reports are not true.”
A military source said in a statement on Wednesday that “an armed clash erupted late on Tuesday night between an Iraqi army unit and unknown assailants who tried to storm an Iraqi army base in Bayji, north of Baghdad. No casualties were reported.”
He added: “A helicopter rushed to the area of the incident to provide the army unit with air support. It came under fire and was brought down, killing all four of its crew immediately.” He further added that “an army unit rushed to the crash site and moved the bodies of the crew to the forensic medicine department, while the helicopter wreckage was taken to the military base.”
He further added that “security forces carried out a search operation to find the assailants, who disappeared after the attack.”
Despite denials from defense ministry of the downing of a second helicopter, a military source in the Salah Al-Din Province said an Iraqi army helicopter was forced to land after being hit by insurgent gunfire during a security operation north of Tikrit, 100 miles north of Baghdad.
The source added in a statement that “an Iraqi army aircraft came under fire from unknown insurgents during a military operation in the Sukkariyyah area, west of Bayji, where a helicopter was shot down late Tuesday night during clashes between an army unit and insurgents.” He said: “The aircraft was forced to land at the Siniyyah Air Base after being hit, but no casualties were sustained.”
Salah Al-Din Province has become known among military and tribal circles as a haven for groups linked to Al-Qaeda. While Al-Qaeda affiliates were forced to leave Anbar Province for Nineveh Province in the Kurdistan region and other areas following the formation of the Awakening Councils at the end of 2007, Salah Al-Din Province was not affected.
The province has witnessed an increase in violence since the Iraqi army broke up a protest in Hawijah last April, which resulted in a large number of deaths and injuries among the protesters. A fact-finding parliamentary committee revealed at the time that senior military commanders were involved in the incident, but no measures were taken against them.