Russian diplomats wounded in Iraq

Convoy leaving Baghdad comes under fire twice

attackers' identity unclear

War in Iraq

April 07, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MOSCOW - Nearly two dozen Russian diplomats and journalists, including Russia's ambassador to Iraq, came under attack twice yesterday as they tried to leave Baghdad in an automobile convoy, U.S. and Russian officials said.

At least five people were wounded, and some Russian and Arab news reports last night said the Russian ambassador to Iraq, Vladimir Titorenko, was among them. None of the injuries was life-threatening, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Officials and witnesses disagreed as to whether the attacks came from Iraqi or U.S.-led forces. The Russian Foreign Ministry here summoned the American and Iraqi ambassadors to demand an inquiry and assurances that the convoy would receive safe passage.

The Russian government had advised both sides in the conflict that its diplomatic staff was leaving Baghdad. A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said yesterday that officials had been aware of the Russian departure and had sought to provide "as much protection as we could."

But he stopped short of saying that American-led forces were not responsible for the attack, saying only that the incident was under investigation.

The attack promised to complicate a visit to Moscow yesterday and today by President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Rice, the most senior White House official to visit Russia since early this year, appeared to be on a mission to smooth relations with the Kremlin amid an increasingly bitter dispute over the war.

The Russians had vigorously protested to the United States last week after bombs that they said had come from American airstrikes landed in a residential neighborhood near the Russian Embassy.

Initial accounts of the attacks yesterday were confusing. According to Russian television and the Interfax news service, which cited an unidentified source, the convoy of 23 people and about eight vehicles first came under fire about five miles outside Baghdad.

The convoy later encountered a procession of jeeps about nine miles outside the capital, according to witnesses, and came under fire again when it sent a single automobile forward with a flag to identify itself. But it was unclear at which stop the most serious injuries occurred.

A report on Russian state television RTR, whose journalists were in the convoy, said the group appeared to have driven into a firefight between American and Iraqi forces.

The report said one embassy worker was wounded seriously and that others were more lightly hurt, but made no mention of injuries to the ambassador. While journalists continued on to Jordan, the diplomatic staff traveled to the town of Faludja, 35 miles outside Baghdad, so the wounded could be treated at a local hospital.

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