Russian embassy staff seized in Iraq

4729_1.jpgA Russian embassy worker has been killed and four others kidnapped when gunmen attacked their vehicle in Baghdad, highlighting continuing lawlessness in Iraq that also saw 21 people killed by a car bomb in the southern city of Basra.


Meanwhile, the US military cleared soldiers of wrongdoing in one case of allegedly killing civilians, but probes were continuing into two other incidents that have raised questions about the conduct of US troops in Iraq.


Gunmen blocked the vehicle of the Russians in the Mansur neighborhood, not far from their embassy. Opening fire, they killed one employee and kidnapped the other four occupants of the car.


The Russian foreign ministry said “unknown individuals attacked a vehicle belonging to the Russian embassy in Baghdad containing embassy employees carrying out their duties.


“One person was killed and four were abducted as a result of the attack.”


It was not immediately clear whether any of the victims were diplomats.


A foreign ministry spokesman told AFP Saturday: “We are trying to clarify the situation on the spot. They are all Russians, there are no Iraqis among them.”


However, the head of the ministry’s information department, Alexei Sazonov, told NTV television that “according to information from Baghdad, four Russian diplomats from the Russian embassy were kidnapped while on duty and another was killed by unidentified men.”


Police in Baghdad have been told to be on the lookout for a car and minibus of Korean manufacture used by the kidnappers.


Russia long had a major presence in Iraq due to close relations with the previous regime, however, when their technicians came under attack in 2004, most Russian personnel pulled out.


A kidnapping incident in April 2004 prompted more than 450 Russians to leave the country, followed by another 100 from an electricity company a month later after two of their employees were shot dead in an ambush.


In July 2005, a convoy of Russian embassy vehicles came under fire on the way to the airport, wounding two people, but the ambassador himself was not present.


Diplomats, often from Arab countries, have been a frequent target of insurgents in Iraq. An Emirati diplomat was kidnapped in May and returned home last week after a two week ordeal.


In Basra, meanwhile, a car bomb exploded in a crowded bazzar in the the old city, killing 21 people and wounding 80, a defense ministry official said.


The blast occurred only three days after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited the restive city and declared a state of emergency there.


In other violence, a 10-year-old child was among 12 other people killed, while the remains of 24 people turned up in various areas around the capital.


Seven policeman were killed in an insurgent assault on a police checkpoint outside the restive city of Baquba, northeast of Baghdad. Four policemen and six civilians were also wounded.


Also in Baquba, police made the grisly discovery of eight heads wrapped in plastic and left in a fruit box on the side of a road.

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