A Bulgarian Defense Ministry official tells VOA News the ministry is convinced that inexperienced American troops in Iraq shot and killed a Bulgarian soldier late last Friday, in an incident that has shocked the small Balkan nation. American and Bulgarian military officials are due to meet in Baghdad Friday to discuss how to improve coordination between the U.S.-led coalition forces.
The Bulgarian Defense official, who has direct knowledge of the investigation, told VOA News Wednesday that Bulgarian military police in Iraq are convinced 30-year-old Junior Sergeant Gardi Gardev was killed when several American troops opened fire on his convoy.
Speaking by telephone from the ministry in Sofia, Lieutenant Colonel Sevastian Dobrev said the shooting took place at night in a desert area, when Bulgarian troops and U.S. forces at a nearby radio post were not able to recognize each other.
He said the trouble began after Bulgarian troops stepped out of their armored vehicles to fix a problem with their communication equipment, about 160 kilometers southeast of Baghdad.
"At that moment one Iraqi car tried to pass them," he explained. "They tried to stop it, but the car did not want to stop. They shot two times in the north direction in that area. A few seconds after that our coalition partners from the United States from this radio post opened fire."
Lieutenant-Colonel Dobrev said two bullets hit machine gunner Gardi Gardev during the incident. He said colleagues tried to revive Sergeant Gardev, while an American helicopter was called in to take him to a hospital.
However the helicopter was apparently unable to land and another emergency vehicle arrived too late to save his life. Mr. Dobrev said the inexperience of American forces at the recently built radio post in the area attributed to what the army calls a "friendly fire incident."
"Our guys know exactly where they are deployed on the ground. They signed this place on their maps," he said. "But there was no contact, any kind of contact, between the Bulgarian battalion and the American radio post there."
Mr. Dobrev said Bulgarian and American military officials will meet in Baghdad Friday to discuss how to improve coordination and the outcome of investigations by Bulgarians and two American teams.
He denied the incident has increased anti-American sentiment in Bulgaria, which is among several Eastern European countries supporting the US-led efforts in Iraq. Bulgaria has a 460-strong battalion in the Iraqi city of Diwaniya, serving under Polish command, and its mandate expires mid-2005.
Bulgarian soldier Gardev, who was buried Tuesday in his home village of Dolno Sahrane, was posthumously awarded the rank of candidate officer and received a medal for his apparent bravery in Iraq.
He died around the same time that American soldiers shot and killed an Italian intelligence agent, while wounding an Italian journalist he helped to rescue from insurgents. U.S. officials have expressed their regret over both incidents.