Bulgaria is urging the United States to investigate the fatal shooting of one of its soldiers who was killed Friday in Iraq, around the same time American forces also shot an Italian intelligence officer. Bulgaria is preparing for a public funeral.
Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov told reporters his country has sent a letter to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard B. Myers "asking for an investigation" into the Bulgarian army's eighth fatality in Iraq.
The minister stressed that results of Bulgaria's own investigation gave in his words "enough grounds" to believe the death of private Gardi Gardev "was caused by friendly fire" from American forces.
Initial reports suggested the soldier died in a shootout with insurgents near the central Iraqi city of Diwaniya. But Mr. Svinarov said it had become clear that someone started shooting at the Bulgarian patrol from a nearby location where a U.S. army unit was stationed.
The shooting apparently began after the Bulgarians tried to stop a civilian Iraqi car, firing warning shots in the air. Minister Svinarov said the incident had shown that coalition forces must undertake emergency measures to improve coordination with each other.
U.S. military officials were not immediately available for comment.
Mr. Gardev was killed around the same time that American troops in Baghdad opened fire on a vehicle carrying freed kidnap victim Giuliana Sgrena to the airport. Journalist Sgrena was wounded in the shoulder, but the Italian intelligence officer who freed her was killed.
Bulgarian soldier Gardev's remains were flown back to Sofia on Sunday. His funeral was to be held Tuesday in his home village in central Bulgaria.
A Bulgarian defense official suggested to VOA News that questions surrounding Mr. Gardev's death come at a sensitive time for the defense minister, whose government is preparing for parliamentary elections scheduled for June.
Although Bulgaria was one of several Eastern European countries initially supporting the war in Iraq, opinion polls indicate about 75 percent of Bulgarians disagree with the U.S.-led military operations there.
Commentators say the death of private Gardev could further increase pressure on Bulgaria's government to withdraw its 460-member infantry battalion from Iraq. The troops are serving under Polish command and their current mandate ends in mid-2005.