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Two Army pilots killed in Iraq helicopter crash, US says

Associated Press / February 22, 2010

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BAGHDAD - Two American Army pilots were killed yesterday in a helicopter crash on a base in northern Iraq, the US military said.

The military said there were no enemy forces present and no hostile fire reported. It said the accident was under investigation, and the pilots’ names were being withheld pending notification of relatives.

The deaths raise to at least 4,378 the number of US military personnel who have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The United States is preparing to withdraw combat forces from Iraq this summer and all troops by the end of 2011, but officials are counting on a fair and credible election to smooth the way.

That effort was set back over the weekend as a top Sunni Arab lawmaker who was banned from running in the March 7 election withdrew his party from the campaign and urged other groups to join the boycott.

In his announcement, Saleh al-Mutlaq expressed concerns about Iran’s influence in the political process. Sunnis have long been suspicious of the intentions of Tehran’s clerical rulers toward Iraq.

A Shi’ite-led panel reviewing candidates for suspected ties to Saddam Hussein’s regime blacklisted more than 400 candidates, mostly Sunnis, including Mutlaq, which prohibits them from running in the parliamentary election. Mutlaq says he quit Hussein’s ruling Ba’ath Party in the 1970s.

Mutlaq’s National Dialogue Front, which has 11 seats in the outgoing Legislature, is the second-largest Sunni bloc in Parliament.