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Attack on Russian Nationals in Iraq Sparks Investigation - 2003-04-06

The Kremlin said four to five Russian nationals were wounded when their convoy came under attack while leaving Baghdad. Russia's Foreign Ministry immediately called in the U.S. and Iraqi ambassadors to Russia and urged them to investigate the incident and punish those responsible.

The first known attack on Russian nationals in Iraq came as the last remaining diplomatic staff and essential personnel were fleeing the war zone.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said the convoy carrying the Russian ambassador to Iraq, diplomatic staff and a number of journalists came under fire twice on the main road out of Baghdad heading for the Syrian border.

Ministry officials gave no indication of who was injured in the attack, or whether coalition or Iraqi forces were believed responsible.

A short while later, in a statement from its headquarters, the U.S. military command said that coalition forces were not to blame.

The statement cited initial field reports indicating there were no U.S. troops in the vicinity of the convoy at the time of the attack. It added that the area in question was still believed to be controlled by Iraqi forces.

Central command also said its forces were working to try to give the Russian convoy cover until it could reach its final destination.

President Vladimir Putin was notified of the attack and the U.S. and Iraqi ambassadors to Russia were immediately summoned to the ministry. The diplomats were urged to do all they could to investigate the incident and punish those responsible.

Russia has been a fervent critic of the war in Iraq and last week summoned U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow to protest the alleged endangerment of the remaining Russian staff still in Baghdad. Russia said coalition air strikes came dangerously close to the building in which the Russians were working.

Meanwhile, the United States' national security adviser, Condoleeza Rice, has arrived in Moscow for discussions aimed at strengthening the U.S.-Russian relationship, despite of the differences about the war in Iraq.

Ms. Rice is scheduled to meet with a number of leading Russian officials before leaving Moscow on Monday.

Before the war in Iraq, the U.S.-Russian relationship was characterized as flourishing. Both sides have expressed hope that relations can be kept on track, just one month away from the next summit-level talks between President Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush.