Insurgents Down Civilian Helicopter Near Baghdad, Killing 11

Insurgents Down Civilian Helicopter Near Iraqi Capital (WaPo, A1)

Insurgents shot down a helicopter with a heat-seeking missile north of the Iraqi capital Thursday, killing all six American security contractors and five others on board, according to U.S. officials and insurgents.

The attack marked the first time in the two years of the U.S.-led occupation that fighters in Iraq have succeeded in bringing down an aircraft contracted for transporting civilians. Planes and helicopters are being used increasingly around the country as attacks make road travel on vital routes deadly for Iraqis and foreigners alike.

On one of the most notorious of those routes, Baghdad’s dangerous airport road, a bomb exploded Thursday, killing two foreigners and wounding three, Iraqi police said. The strike highlighted the inability of U.S. forces and their allies to prevent attacks on one of the most heavily traveled and most reliably targeted corridors in Iraq.

At least 15 people have been killed and 17 wounded in a week of bombings and ambushes by gunmen on and around the airport road. The victims include civilians and Iraqi soldiers, and soldiers from the United States, Canada, the Czech Republic, Australia, Brazil and the Philippines. Wounded tolls generally do not include Iraqi victims taken to civilian hospitals.


Insurgents asserted responsibility for the downing of the chartered helicopter, a military craft designed and built in the former Soviet Union. The helicopter went down over countryside along the Tigris farmed by prosperous Sunnis intensely loyal to the former government of Saddam Hussein.

The six Americans on board were employees of Blackwater USA, a private security firm in North Carolina, U.S. officials said. The Blackwater contractors and two Fijian bodyguards working for Virginia-based Skylink Air and Logistic Support were en route from a Baghdad-area airfield to Tikrit, north of the capital, U.S. officials said.

The three-man Bulgarian crew was flying the helicopter close to the ground, a military tactic intended to avoid giving attackers time to spot aircraft and line up a shot, according to U.S. officials. The tactic can be risky if adversaries hold a position that nevertheless allows them to spot and track incoming aircraft.

Blackwater is the same company that employed the four contractors brutally killed in Fallujah last April.

Clearly, the insurgents are stepping up their attacks again. Whether the downing of this helicopter represents an escalation or just a lucky shot is unclear, though.

  • Cori Dauber wonders about the competence of the flight crew and sees some gaps in the report.
  • Michelle Malkin has an interesting discussion about media coverage of such events as well as some predictable reactions from the lunatic fringe.
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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    James, this was all over the news yesterday since morning. Isn’t this “old news” by now?

    Just curious.

  2. Jim Henley says:

    Good question re the helicopter itself. I think we can safely conclude, for instance, that the downing of the British cargo plane the other month was a lucky shot – it hasn’t been repeated. A couple of months should give us our answer on the helicopter too.

    Meanwhile, the insurgencies appear not to be spiraling down into defeat after all. It looks like the true picture is, they ramped up their opstempo for the elections, regrouped, and now are ramping up their opstempo again. I blogged a little bit about this last night, but Spencer Ackerman is also on the case, reconsidering his earlier optimism about the post-election outlook for the insurgent groups.