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U.S. helicopter shot down in Iraq

Iraqis chanted anti-U.S. slogans when a coalition vehicle exploded in Fallujah Sunday
Iraqis chanted anti-U.S. slogans when a coalition vehicle exploded in Fallujah Sunday

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. death toll from a downed Chinook helicopter near Fallujah, has risen to 15, U.S. military officials say.

The helicopter was shot down by a shoulder-type missile, about 60 kilometers west of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, at 8 a.m. Sunday, witnesses told CNN.

It was one of three separate attacks Sunday, which saw at least one other U.S. servicemen killed in a convoy attack in Baghdad at about midnight.

It is the deadliest combat day for the U.S. since March 23, the day 28 American troops died in battle.

Between 32 and 35 people were traveling on the Chinook, which was one of two flying to the Baghdad International Airport from a U.S. base camp. The men were beginning a "R and R" mission -- a short break from war.

CNN's Jane Arraf, who is at the scene, said witnesses saw a shoulder-type missile strike the helicopter just before it crashed into a field in a farming area.

"They (coalition forces) are controlling traffic, with guns at the ready. They are saying it is still a volatile area," she said.

"The area is in the middle of farmland, and it would be extremely easy for somebody to hide here and launch a missile, which is what witnesses are saying."

A second convoy was attacked in Fallujah, about an hour before the Chinook incident, but it is not clear whether any injuries were sustained.

CNN's Matthew Chance said crowds of Iraqis gathered quickly in the "flashpoint" city chanting anti-U.S. slogans.

It is believed the U.S. soldiers in the vehicle were taken away by other members of the convoy.

Also Sunday, a U.S. military patrol was attacked by Iraqis throwing grenades in the Abu Ghraib market area west of Baghdad, the same area where U.S. troops killed 14 Iraqis Friday after they were attacked with grenades and small arms fire.

These 13 deaths -- along with the death of another soldier early Sunday in Baghdad -- brings to 136 the number of U.S. combat deaths since U.S. President George W. Bush declared an end to major hostilities May 1.

The attacks came as coalition forces were on alert for a threatened "day of resistance," following a warning from the U.S. Consulate Office in Baghdad.

The consulate said U.S. military patrols, hotels, markets, and non-governmental organizations could be among the sites attacked.

Chance said it was "difficult to pull the incidents together to say with any certainty" whether the incidents were connected and part of the so-called "day of resistance."

"The areas of Fallujah and Baghdad have been the venues for similar attacks, so it is difficult, impossible, to say whether we are seeing greater, more intense, action," he added.

On Saturday, two U.S. soldiers were killed in an explosion near the northern city of Mosul. The soldiers, from the 101st Airborne Division, were killed when their convoy struck an improvised explosive device. Two other soldiers were injured.

On Friday clashes between U.S. troops and Iraqi crowds in Baghdad left 14 Iraqis dead, according to a U.S. military official.

In a bid to boost security and stability, U.S. administrator for Iraq Paul Bremer said the United States is stepping up efforts to hand over more responsibility to Iraqis themselves.

Coalition forces will speed up the training of Iraqi police and military, he said, and the size of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps will be doubled by March.

"We will have over 200,000 Iraqis involved in their own security forces by September next year," Bremer added.

Despite the attacks, the U.S.-led coalition had been able to reopen justice courts, build jails and recruit 50,000 Iraqi police officers.

A coalition military official said 33 attempted attacks are made against U.S. troops every day. Coalition officials blame forces loyal to ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, terrorist groups and other insurgents for the attacks.

Bremer said officials believe Saddam is alive and in Iraq, though there is "no indication" he is behind the attacks.

But he added: "His capture, or killing him, is one of the top priorities."

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