Two US pilots were killed when their helicopter crashed in west Baghdad on Monday night, the US military said on Tuesday.

   

"There was no hostile fire involved," it said in a statement, without giving details.

 

A US soldier with Task Force Baghdad was killed when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle while on patrol in the capital, the military said.

 

The name of the soldier was withheld pending notification of next of kin.

 

Officials blamed the rise in violence on Monday on anti-government fighters' efforts to deepen the political turmoil surrounding the contested 15 December parliamentary vote.

 

Preliminary figures, including some returns released on Monday from ballots cast early by expatriate Iraqis and some voters inside Iraq, have given a big lead to the religious Shia bloc that controls the current interim government.

 

Iraq's Electoral Commission said final results for the 275-seat parliament could be released in about a week.

 

Bombings

 

On Monday, a car bomber slammed into a police patrol in the capital, leaving three dead, officials said.

 

In a second incident, a motorcycle bomber rammed into a Shia funeral ceremony, killing at least two, said Major Falah Muhamadawi of the Interior Ministry. A mortar killed two people in a predominantly Shia neighbourhood.

 

Five car bombs and a motorcycle
bomb killed at least seven

Four other car bombs killed at least two people, and armed men killed five officers at a police checkpoint north of Baghdad, officials said.

 

A US soldier with Task Force Baghdad was killed when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle while on patrol in the capital, the military said.

 

The name of the soldier was withheld pending notification of next of kin.

 

Saddam's half-brother

 

In Jordan, a lawyer for Saddam Hussein and a Jordanian newspaper claimed on Monday that the former ruler's half-brother rejected a US offer of a ranking Iraqi government position in exchange for testimony against the deposed leader.

 

The half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim, reportedly made the claim on Thursday before the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Court, which is hearing the cases against him, Saddam and six other co-defendants for the death of more than 140 Shia after a 1982 attempt on Saddam's life in the town of Dujail.

 

The lawyer spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to give details of the closed session.

 

Saddam's chief Iraqi lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, made the same allegations in Monday's editions of the independent Jordanian daily Al Arab Al Yawm. Dulaimi and US officials were not immediately available for comment on Monday, which was a US holiday.

 

But chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Musawi denied that there were attempts to cut a deal with Ibrahim during the closed session. "The defense team should respect the profession and should not make false statements," al-Musawi said. He refused to reveal what happened during the closed session.

 

In other developments:

 

Armed men raided a house in southern Baghdad, killing three people, police Captain Qasim Husayn said. Armed men attacked the house again when police arrived to remove the bodies, wounding two officers, police said.

 

A Shia cleric in the southern city of Najaf and a man in the northern city of Mosul were shot and killed. In Baghdad, a civilian driving his children to school and a professor were killed.

 

A car bomb targeted the governor of Diyala province, killing a bodyguard, and armed men killed a member of Diyala city council.

 

In a separate development, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko paid an unannounced visit to his country's troops. His country is pulling out its remaining 867 soldiers this week.