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Officials Investigate Shooting Attack on Russian Convoy

BY Admin  April 7, 2003 at 10:20 AM EDT

The convoy of 25 diplomats, including Russia’s ambassador to Iraq, Vladimir Titorenko, was hit by ground fire near a western Baghdad suburb Sunday. Five diplomats were reported wounded, some seriously, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said on Russian television.

Immediately following the attack , U.S. Central Command said there were no coalition forces operating in the area.

“Initial field reports reveal that no coalition forces were operating in the area of the incident,” CentCom said in a statement on Sunday. “Based on the reported location, the incident is believed to have taken place in territory controlled by the Iraqi regime. The inquiry into this incident continues and more details will be made available as soon as possible.”

However, a Russian journalist traveling with the convoy, said the vehicles may have been caught in a crossfire between U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Alexander Minakov, of Rossiya TV said Iraqi tanks and vehicles located near the road came under attack as the convoy passed. The Iraqis apparently returned fire and several of the convoy’s vehicles were hit.

Minakov said the convoy later attempted to flag down an U.S. armored column, but were unsuccessful.

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman General Peter Pace, told The Associated Press Sunday that the Russian convoy had passed coalition ground troops before it was attacked “out in more open territory” west of Baghdad.

“Somewhere after they got out past our main forces they were attacked. We don’t know by whom or by how many,” Pace said in Washington.

A Russian journalist asked U.S. Central Command spokesman Brigadier General Vincent Brooks Monday about reports that bullets from American M-16 rifles were extracted from Russian vehicles and one of the wounded.

Brooks said U.S. Forces had been aware of the convoy’s departure and had received reports that it came under fire.

“What we don’t have is anything that would confirm the role of U.S. forces in that [the attack]. We do know that it went through a contested area, an area that certainly had Iraqi forces present and we fight those forces later in the day. There are any number of reports out there at this point in time and none of them are factual, so I can’t provide you an update until we’ve had the opportunity to continue our interaction with the Russian embassy,” Brooks said.

News reports said the vehicles, some with visible bullet holes, arrived safely in Syria on Monday, but had left at least one wounded official behind in an Iraqi hospital.

“I saw six cars with Iraqi diplomatic number plates including the (Russian) ambassador’s car,” a Reuters cameraman reported from the Tanf border crossing in Syria. “He was driving his car which had two bullet holes in it, one in the glass and one on the driver’s side. The other cars also had bullet holes.”

The Iraqi and U.S. ambassadors in Moscow were called to the Russian Foreign Ministry Sunday and asked to ensure the safety of Russian citizens inside Iraq.

Diplomatic relations have also been complicated by the convoy incident and Russian complaints of bombing near its embassy in Baghdad.

“We have been through some difficult times and differences over Iraq have strained the relationship and we look forward to exchanging views on how to move forward,” a U.S. embassy spokesman said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the United States for going to war, but has said it is not in his country’s interest for the U.S. to lose the fight.

“It is not in Russia’s interest to see the United States defeated. What is in our interest is to see this issue put back within the framework of the United Nations,” Putin said in a televised interview Wednesday. “The sooner this happens, the better it will be for all countries involved in this conflict.”

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell reportedly called Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on Sunday to express “deep regret” for the incident but did not say the United States was responsible.