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9 US Soldiers Die in Iraq Helicopter Crash Landing - 2004-01-08

Nine American soldiers died when their helicopter made an emergency crash landing near the Iraqi town of Fallujah. At the same time U.S. officials released dozens of Iraqi prisoners, but these were not part of the promised release of hundreds of security detainees.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters in Baghdad about the crash.

"At about 2:20 today, Baghdad time, an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter on a routine mission carrying nine passengers crashed southeast of Fallujah," he said. "There were no survivors. A quick reaction force has secured the area and an investigation is under way."

Fallujah has been a hotbed of anti-coalition activity and a military helicopter was shot down there last week.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Iraqis gathered outside Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison for the possible release of family members. They expressed anxiety, anger and frustration as they waited.

Those waiting said their loved ones had been picked up during raids by American soldiers. They said their relatives had not committed any crimes and they complained bitterly about what they said was American abuse of justice.

Coalition forces have detained more than 9,000 Iraqis for security reasons.

The U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, announced Wednesday that about 500 low-level security detainees would be released over the next several days. Mr. Bremer said those slated for release were not directly involved in attacks against coalition forces.

As a condition for release, the prisoners would have to renounce violence and community leaders would have to guarantee their future conduct.

One hundred such prisoners were expected to be released. But, Coalition spokesman, Dan Senor, said the release at the Abu Ghraib prison was not part of the bigger release program announced by Mr. Bremer. He said the process depended on community leaders as guarantors.

"We are in the process of contacting those guarantors," he said. "They have been notified, but we are waiting for them to step forward and so the process is under way. It is going to take a couple of days, we think, for all the guarantors to step forward, but as Ambassador Bremer said, we have 100 prisoners that are ready to be released."

Mr. Bremer had said the prisoner release would be a gesture of reconciliation and he said he hoped those freed would participate in the rebuilding of Iraq.