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BAGHDAD - The US military on Sunday announced the deaths of six of its troops across Iraq, including two pilots of a helicopter that was shot down by insurgents the day before.

Ten Iraqis were killed in violence Sunday, while insurgents blew up a Shiite mosque northeast of Baghdad as sectarian tensions festered in the country, still without a government nearly four months after a key national election.

The US military said the two pilots of the helicopter that crashed Saturday evening after coming under enemy fire were presumed dead.

"As reported earlier the aircraft was conducting a combat air patrol. Military officials believe the crash was the result of hostile fire," the military said in its statement.

The Apache Longbow helicopter went down Saturday at 5:30 pm (1330 GMT) southwest of Baghdad near Yussifiyah.

Earlier Sunday, an Iraqi insurgent group claimed responsibility for the attack in an unconfirmed statement published on the Internet.

"The lions of Islam in the Maath bin Jabal brigade of Al-Rashideen Army managed to down a helicopter of the US occupation forces in the Yussifiyah area south of Baghdad," said the statement.

The group has posted a steady stream of videos and statements on the Internet, including videos of what it claimed were two recent mortar attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad.

On Sunday the military also announced the death of four more troops, including two soldiers killed together late Saturday by a roadside bomb attack during a foot patrol in central Baghdad.

The deaths of the two other troops who died a few days back -- one near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and the other in the restive western province of Al Anbar -- were also announced Sunday.

The latest casualties bring the toll of US servicemen killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion to 2,335 according to an AFP count based on Pentagon figures.

Meanwhile, rebels killed three Shiites from a family heading to Balad Ruz in search of their son who had been kidnapped the day before, police said. Among the wounded was a nine-year-old child.

Two days ago, a similar attack against a Shiite family in two cars around Balad Ruz killed six people.

Also near Baquba, insurgents filled a small Shiite mosque with explosives and blew it to pieces at 3:00 am (2300 GMT Saturday), police said.

No one was hurt in the blast, which took place just east of Baquba in the mixed Sunni and Shiite village of Kibba.

The entire area is known for its sectarian tensions.

In Baghdad, six men were killed early Sunday in an explosion inside a house in the southern outskirts of the city in what police described as a failed attempt to build a bomb.

In the Sunni neighborhood of Khadra, a policeman was shot dead by unknown gunmen, while in the central Mustansiriyah neighborhood the director of religious tourism at the transport ministry, Walid Sobhi Ahmed, was stopped in his car and kidnapped.

The brothers of Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlak and Khalaf Al-Alyan were also kidnapped in separate incidents over the past week, reported an aide to al-Mutlak on Sunday.

The Iraqi government, meanwhile, announced the arrest of an unidentified aide to Al Qaeda in Iraq's leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Baghdad's predominantly western Sunni neighborhood of Jamaa.

Police reported finding a total of six corpses around the city, with some showing signs of torture. Since the bombing of a Shiite shrine north of Baghdad on February 22, the country has been swept by a wave of sectarian killing.

A Turkish driver was also killed just outside Baghdad late on Saturday, according to the Anatolia news agency.

04/02/2006 14:12 GMT

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