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Five servicemen die as insurgents in Iraq bring down UK helicopter
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
Five British servicemen died yesterday when an Army helicopter crashed in southern Iraq apparently after being hit by an insurgent missile.
The Lynx plunged into a house in a residential area of Basra while on a routine patrol, and the incident brings to 109 the number of servicemen killed in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003.
The crash was followed by riots in which five Iraqis, including two children, were reportedly killed. They are thought to have died when a jeering mob celebrating the deaths of the servicemen clashed with British soldiers trying to secure the crash site.
Troops in Land Rovers and Warrior armoured vehicles came under a hail of gunfire, blast bombs, stones and petrol bombs and opened fire to keep the crowd at bay.
Witnesses said a British soldier was hit by shrapnel.
If, as expected, the missile attack is confirmed, it will be the first time a British helicopter has been lost to enemy fire since the war began.
Lt-Col Kareem al-Zaidi, an Iraqi police spokesman said: "A multinational forces helicopter was hit by a rocket and went down on houses in central Basra." Firemen arrived at the scene within minutes of the crash and are said to have found four bodies in the wreckage, though The Sunday Telegraph understands that the flight manifest contained five names.
An MoD spokesman said: "We can confirm that a British military helicopter has come down over Basra, part of the Multinational Division British-controlled South East.
"The site has been secured, and there are confirmed casualties at the scene. It is too early to give further details and circumstances are being investigated."
Dominated by the Shi'ite Muslim majority now in control in Baghdad, Basra has seen less violence than cities in the north. However, friction between the occupying force and militia groups such as the Mehdi Army of the Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr does flare up.
Sadr, a firebrand in his early 30s, wants an end to the US and British occupation and is a key figure in the Islamist Alliance bloc that will lead a new Iraqi government.
In a separate incident, three Iraqi army officers, including a lieutenant colonel, were killed inside their base in Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit by a suicide bomber.
Repost from James