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Bulgaria Mourns Eighth Fatality in Iraq

Bulgaria's eighth soldier killed in Iraq was buried Tuesday. Questions remain about the March 4 death that Bulgarian officials say was an accidental killing by U.S. forces. Thousands of people attended the funeral of Junior Sergeant Gurdi Gurdev.

Defense officials, friends, relatives, and fellow villagers attended the funeral service of 30-year-old Gurdi Gurdev. He was posthumously promoted by the Bulgarian military to the rank of officer candidate, to honor his apparent bravery in Iraq, where he was allegedly shot and killed late Friday by United States troops.

The funeral service in his home village of Dolno Sahrane in Central Bulgaria, came as a Bulgarian Defense Ministry official told VOA News that the outcome of an investigation into his death could be announced as early as Wednesday.

Bulgaria's Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov has said that Mr. Gurdev died when his patrol came under heavy fire from the direction of a nearby U.S. Army communications facility, about 160 kilometers southeast of Baghdad.

Local media said the soldier was hit in the chest by several bullets. Despite efforts of colleagues to revive him, Mr. Gurdev reportedly did not make it to a hospital. He died around the same time that U.S. forces also accidentally shot and killed an Italian secret-service agent in Baghdad.

Defense Minister Svinarov has urged Washington to explain why the attack happened and has called for better coordination among the U.S.-led coalition forces. American officials say they regret Mr. Gurdev's death and that U.S. forces are committed to working with their Bulgarian counterparts to determine the cause of the fatality.

The death of Sergeant Gurdev, a machine gunner, has shocked the small Balkan nation.

On Tuesday, the deputy chief of the Bulgarian General Staff, Lieutenant General Atanas Zapryanov, reportedly wrote in the book of condolences that the country in his words "became orphaned with the death of its worthy son."

Bulgaria has an infantry battalion of 460 soldiers in the Iraqi city of Diwaniya, serving under Polish command, but it is unclear if the government will extend its mandate beyond mid-2005.

The Balkan nation is among several Eastern European countries supporting the U.S.-led operations in Iraq.