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US Helicopter Goes Down in Iraq; No Deaths Reported

The U.S. military in Iraq says an Army attack helicopter went down Tuesday west of Baghdad, but the two crew members survived.

A spokesman says the U.S. military has secured the area near the town of Habbaniyah.

Witnesses said the Apache helicopter appeared to have been hit by ground fire. But there was no official word about what caused the crash. It was the third U.S. military helicopter downed in the region in less than two weeks.

Last week, an Army Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by ground fire in the same region, killing all nine American soldiers on board. Another helicopter was shot down on January 2, killing one pilot and injuring the other.

Meanwhile, The New York Times says the United States is revising its proposed process for handing over power to an interim Iraqi government by June 30.

The report cites U.S. officials as saying the process is being revised following objections by influential Iraqi Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The ayatollah has called for a directly-elected government. The United States says early elections are not feasible, because of Iraq's security situation and problems in determining eligible voters. Instead, the U.S. plan calls for local caucuses to choose a Transitional National Assembly, which will appoint an Interim Government to run the country until elections by late 2005.

According to the Times report, U.S. officials are now planning to broaden the caucuses process to make it as inclusive and as transparent as possible. They are said to be intensifying efforts in all of Iraq's 18 provinces to hold local meetings to select delegates to caucuses around the country.