U.S. Shoots Down Iranian Drone Near Baghdad

American warplanes shot down an Iranian unmanned drone last month just 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials confirmed Monday.

A U.S. statement said the Ababil 3 had been tracked for more than an hour before U.S. jets shot it down "well inside Iraqi airspace" on Feb. 25. An Iraqi official, who asked not to be identified, told The Associated Press that the Iranian aircraft went down near the Iraqi border town of Mandali.

The head of military operations at the Iraqi Defense Ministry, Major-General Abdul Aziz Mohammed Jassim, told the Reuters news agency that the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle had most likely penetrated Iraqi airspace by mistake.

"According to the report received by multinational forces, this drone entered Iraq mistakenly at a point 60 miles from Baghdad. It crossed 6 miles into Iraq," he said.

But American officials said the aircraft's presence over Iraqi airspace "was not an accident," according to the U.S. statement.

Iranian officials had no immediate comment on the incident. The U.S. military has long accused Iran of arming Shiite militants in Iraq, where tens of thousands of people have died in sectarian violence since the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein in 2003. Iran has denied any such involvement.

Iran and Iraq fought a bloody eight-year war in the 1980s that left an estimated 1 million people dead, but ties between the two nations have warmed since Saddam, a Sunni Muslim, was forced from power.

The U.S. has about 140,000 troops in Iraq, but combat operations will cease by the end of August 2010 under President Obama's drawdown plan. All U.S. forces are due to leave the country by the end of 2011.

The coming withdrawal raises doubts about whether local security forces, which increasingly lead military operations but remain reliant on U.S. forces, will be able to stave off the threat of resurgent violence on their own.

Also Monday, a U.S. soldier was fatally injured during combat operations in the Iraqi capital, the U.S. said in a statement. No further details were released.

It was the first combat death reported by the U.S. military in Baghdad this month, and the first among U.S. forces nationwide since a soldier was killed in the Tikrit area March 7.

U.S. casualties have dropped sharply since Iraqi soldiers and police have taken on a greater role in security.

From NPR wire services.

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