Air Force examining fate of unmanned plane down in Iraq

Associated Press Writer

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) -- American military experts were examining data Wednesday transmitted from an unmanned U.S. spy plane to ground controllers to determine why it went down over southern Iraq.

Iraqi television, meanwhile, showed footage Wednesday of what it described as the wreckage of the plane Baghdad says it shot down one day earlier. Five or six pieces of debris, including part of a twisted wing, were shown scattered in a 70-square-foot area.

The United States says it has lost two unmanned Predator spy planes in the past month -- both of which Iraq claimed to have shot down -- but has not acknowledged any hits by hostile fire.

The losses of both Predators were under investigation, said Maj. Brett Morris, a U.S. Air Force officer and spokesman for a Saudi-based joint task force that oversees the air patrols over southern Iraq.

Pinpointing the cause of the disappearance is time-consuming and difficult since U.S. authorities cannot reach the wreckage, he said. Specialists were examining data to determine why the drone, which is controlled from land, disappeared Tuesday.

"It's a complicated process to do it from far," Morris said.

Iraq said it shot the plane down Tuesday near the southern city of Basra, 350 miles south of the capital.

The Predator was the first U.S. aircraft lost in Iraq in the 10 years since U.S. and British planes began patrolling "no-fly" zones, except for a "friendly fire" incident in 1994. Then, American F-15 fighter jets mistakenly shot down two U.S. Army helicopters over northern Iraq, killing 26 people, including 15 Americans.

Iraq considers the no-fly zones, set up to protect Kurdish minorities in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south, violations of its sovereignty. In 1998, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein offered cash prizes to any Iraqi military unit that shoots down an enemy warplane or captures a U.S. or British pilot.