A daring ambush of bombs and gunfire left Poland's ambassador pinned down in a burning vehicle today before being pulled to safety and airlifted...
BAGHDAD — A daring ambush of bombs and gunfire left Poland’s ambassador pinned down in a burning vehicle today before being pulled to safety and airlifted in a rescue mission by the embattled security firm Blackwater USA. At least three people were killed, including a Polish bodyguard.
The attack — apparently well planned in one of Baghdad’s most secure neighborhoods — raised questions about whether it sought to punish Poland for its contributions to the U.S.-led military force in Iraq. But Poland’s prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said his nation would not retreat “in the face of terrorists.”
The diplomatic convoy was hit by three bombs and then attackers opened fire in the Shiite-controlled Karradah district. Polish guards returned fire as the injured ambassador, Gen. Edward Pietrzyk, was pulled from his burning vehicle. At least 10 people, including four Polish security agents, were wounded.
U.S. Embassy officials dispatched Blackwater helicopters to evacuate the ambassador and others. Blackwater was not involved in protecting the Polish convoy.
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Pietrzyk, who was commander of ground forces in Poland before taking the ambassador post in April, suffered minor burns over 20 percent of his body, including his head and right arm and leg, said Polish Charge d’Affaires Waldemar Figaj.
“They were waiting for us,” Figaj told The Associated Press as he gave details of the attack.
Shortly after the assault, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki renewed his government’s offensive against Blackwater.
“There have been 190 victims of Blackwater … The kind of accusations leveled against the company means it is not fit to work in Iraq,” he told a news conference.
It was not known if al-Maliki knew Blackwater rescued the Polish envoy. It also was not clear if the 190 victims represented a new figure arising from an Iraqi investigation or a reference to the 195 incidents involving the U.S. security company outlined in a House report earlier this week.
Congress is looking into Blackwater’s role in a Sept. 16 shootout that left 11 Iraqis dead in a west Baghdad intersection and other incidents by the Moyock, N.C.-based company, which protects U.S. diplomats and others in Iraq.
Diplomatic missions or foreign envoys in Iraq have been attacked at least seven times since the war began, including the July 2005 kidnapping and murder of Egypt’s ambassador.
Poland, a staunch U.S. ally, contributed combat troops to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and has since led a multinational division south of Baghdad. About 900 Polish troops remain in the country training Iraqi personnel; 21 Poles have died during the conflict.
Last year, the Polish government extended its mission in Iraq until the end of 2007, but has made no decision on next year.
Pietrzyk was treated at the U.S. military hospital in the fortified Green Zone and later flown to Warsaw.
“He is going to be fine,” Figaj said. “He is stable, but he needs rest.”
Two Iraqi passers-by also were killed in the 10 a.m. blasts, according to an Iraqi police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
A Polish security guard, Bartosz Orzechowski, 29, died at the hospital, said Poland’s Interior Minister Wladyslaw Stasiak. The slain guard had been employed by the service since 2004.
Robert Szaniawski, a spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry, said officials “don’t have the reasons for the attack,” which destroyed three armored vehicles just a few hundred yards from the Polish Embassy.
But Figaj noted that Poland is a “strong U.S. ally and you can make your own conclusions.”
Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga said officials planned to move the embassy into the Green Zone.
“Backing out in the face of terrorists is the worst possible solution and I trust that the Poles, who are a brave nation, will not desert the battle field,” said Poland’s prime minister, Kaczynski. “We must fight terrorism and that entails a certain risk.”
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, issued a joint statement condemning the attack.
“Poland has been a strong and steadfast ally here and around the world, and we commend its commitment to a stable and secure Iraq,” the statement said. “We stand ready to provide any additional assistance we can.”
American authorities confiscated an AP Television News videotape that contained scenes of the wounded being evacuated. U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl told AP that Iraqi law make it illegal to photograph or videotape the aftermath of bombings or other attacks.