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Bombing in Baghdad injures Polish envoy

Times Staff Writers

A series of explosions hit the Polish ambassador’s convoy in Baghdad on Wednesday, injuring the envoy and killing one of his security guards in what officials described as a carefully timed attack.

Witnesses said three blasts went off, seconds apart, as the three-vehicle convoy drove near the Polish Embassy in central Baghdad. The ambassador, Gen. Edward Pietrzyk, was taken to a U.S.-run hospital in the Green Zone, where his injuries were described as not serious.

Two helicopters from the security company Blackwater USA were used to evacuate Pietrzyk and at least two other wounded people from the scene. The private security firm, which provides guards for U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and other State Department officials, is embroiled in controversy: Its employees are accused of shooting to death at least 11 Iraqi civilians on Sept. 16 on a crowded Baghdad street. Iraqi officials have repeatedly condemned its actions.

At his weekly news conference Wednesday, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said the North Carolina-based company was “not suitable to work in Iraq.”

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“Blackwater still is being pursued, and accusations are still being raised,” he said, referring to allegations outlined in a U.S. congressional report this week. The report notes that a Blackwater guard who shot to death an Iraqi government guard on Christmas Eve in the Green Zone had been hastily flown out of the country, and that there have been 195 shooting incidents involving Blackwater guards in Iraq since 2005.

But the company’s appearance on the scene of Wednesday’s bombing underscored how difficult it will be for the Iraqi government to rein in a force that protects Maliki’s biggest backer: the U.S. government. Shortly after the Sept. 16 incident, Maliki’s government announced it was withdrawing Blackwater’s permission to operate in Iraq, but the U.S. State Department demurred, and the company was back on the streets within days.

Sami Askari, an aide to Maliki, said the government was awaiting the results of at least three different investigations of the Sept. 16 incident. But based on accusations leveled so far, he said, “it is not reasonable to have them work in Iraq.”

The Blackwater helicopters deployed to the scene of Wednesday’s attack were part of the contingent contracted to protect the U.S. Embassy here. Poland has been a staunch supporter of the U.S. presence in Iraq and has about 900 troops in the country. At least 22 Polish troops have died since the war began in 2003, according to icasualties.org.

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U.S. and Iraqi troops and guards at the scene of the bombing said it appeared the explosive devices had been planted and timed to go off as the convoy passed. An Iraqi working as an interpreter for the U.S. military pointed out three large craters created by the blasts. A U.S. soldier, who did not give his name because he was not authorized to comment on the attack, speculated that the bombs were meant to each strike one of the three armored vehicles.

“I was lucky. If I’d left earlier, I’d have been cooked,” said Ahmed Riyadh Abed, who works as a security guard for a diplomatic protection force provided by the Iraqi government. He was just leaving his shift at a roadblock up the street when the explosions occurred.

The street is heavily populated with security guards because of the number of diplomatic residences and compounds, leading to speculation that the attack was the work of an infiltrator.

“Whoever is responsible for this attack definitely had inside information and connections to security apparatuses in this area,” Abed said.

In Warsaw, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who faces pressure to pull troops from Iraq, said he had no intention of doing so despite the attack, news agencies reported.

“Desertion is always the worst option,” Kaczynski said. “This is a difficult situation, but those who became engaged and were there for years and then withdraw are making the worst possible mistake.”

There have been more than a dozen bombings and other attacks against foreign missions or diplomats since 2003. Those attacks do not include the regular volleys of mortar rounds and rockets that are aimed at the Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. and Iraqi government offices. The deadliest attack on diplomats came in August 2003 when a truck bomb went off outside the United Nations mission in Baghdad, killing 22 people. The victims included the United Nations’ chief representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Also Wednesday, Iraqi police said two Iraqis died in a bombing near a high school in Baghdad. Police also said a bomb had gone off near a U.S. military convoy leaving the Green Zone. The U.S. military said it was investigating.

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tina.susman@latimes.com

Times staff writer Saif Hameed contributed to this report.


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