BAGHDAD — Militants downed an Iraqi army helicopter on Thursday in clashes that have killed at least 19 people including 11 policemen, a regional official said, in what appeared to be part of an al-Qaida surge to retake one of its former strongholds.
The fighting around the town of Hadid, about 10 kilometers north of the Diyala provincial capital of Baqouba, follows a warning last weekend from al-Qaida’s leader in Iraq to push back into areas the group was driven out of by the U.S. military after sectarian fighting peaked in 2007. A day after al-Qaida issued the threat, shootings and bombings killed 115 people in Iraq’s deadliest day in more than two years — an assault for which the terror group claimed responsibility.
Diyala provincial spokesman Salih Ebressim Khalil said militants opened fire Thursday on the Iraqi army helicopter, killing one soldier, wounding another and forcing the aircraft to make an emergency landing. The rest of the crew was unharmed.