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Helicopter Shot Down in Iraq

Insurgents fired four mortar rounds at the offices of a Kurdish political party in the northern city of Mosul on Saturday, but missed and killed a driver on a nearby street, Iraqi police Maj. Dara Abdelalah said.

Guards then fired at the rebels and three party members and a passer-by were wounded in the shootout, he said.

On Saturday, the U.S. Army said a 1st Infantry Division soldier was fatally electrocuted while working on communication equipment at an American military base in Baqouba (search), north of Baghdad. An investigation was under way.

The Army also reported that a U.S. military helicopter was shot down Friday by rebels near the town of Amariya, an area where insurgents are active west of Baghdad. The two crewmen escaped injury and the helicopter was recovered, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of U.S. military operations.

While much of Iraq is relatively quiet, rebel attacks on coalition forces and horrific bombings of civilians have plagued the capital and Sunni areas to the north and west, where support for Saddam was strongest when he was in power. Suicide bombers have also targeted Kurds in the north and the Shiite city of Karbala (search), south of Baghdad.

"There has been a spike in attacks on coalition forces and soft targets," Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) acknowledged Friday at a news conference in Baghdad during a surprise, one-day visit. "We have to shift as the enemy shifts. They move from harder targets to softer targets."

President Bush marked the anniversary of the beginning of the war in a speech Friday at the White House, declaring that the fall of Saddam removed a source of violence, aggression and instability in the Middle East.

"There are still violent thugs and murderers in Iraq, and we're dealing with them," Bush said. "But no one can argue that the Iraqi people would be better off with the thugs and murderers back in the palaces."

Some Baghdad residents, however, said Iraqis were more insecure than they were before Bush ordered military strikes on March 19, 2003. The anniversary falls on March 20 in Iraq, because of the time difference.

"The security situation is worse than one year ago. I cannot take my family outside at nights. When I walk in the street, I do not know when a bomb is going to explode and kill me. We were better secured during Saddam's time," said Ammar Samir, 26, who works for a private trading company. "The Americans have failed to provide security and prosperity to the Iraqi people."

Another resident, Saad al-Nuaimi, said the speech was a ploy to attract voters ahead of the November presidential election, in which Iraq policy is likely to be high on the agenda. Al-Nuaimi said Washington had "fabricated lies" claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, though none have been found.

Bush made his decision to go to war despite widespread international opposition.

Thousands of protesters marched in Sydney, Tokyo and other Asian cities to mark the first anniversary of the invasion by demanding the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops from Iraq.

"Bush's invasion of Iraq has incited more terrorism. It caused terrible suffering not only to the Iraqi people, but everyone in the world," protest organizer and pro-democracy activist Lau San-ching said in Hong Kong.

Shortly before Bush made his speech, the top administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, noted ways the coalition had improved the lives of Iraqis over the past year: the electricity supply was back to prewar levels and climbing, unemployment was down and per capita income had risen by 33 percent this year.

"I arrived here in early May and Baghdad was on fire, literally," Bremer said at a briefing.

"There were no private cars, there was not a single policeman on duty anywhere in the country. There was no electricity in most of the country. There was no economic activity whatsoever, there was no stores open anywhere in Baghdad," he said.

"So when I look at how far we have come in 10 months now, it's an astonishing record," Bremer said.

He said the coalition had completed thousands of projects such as generator installations and school refurbishment but admitted that attacks were interfering with big, capital-intensive projects because firms have to spend more on security.

The political process has advanced, with the U.S.-appointed Governing Council signing an interim constitution ahead of the handover of power to Iraqis on June 30. But many details of Iraq's political transition have yet to be mapped out, and there are fears that sectarian divisions could disrupt the process.

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