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Russian convoy caught up in cross fire in Iraq - witness

MOSCOW. April 6 (Interfax) - A convoy of Russian Embassy diplomats and journalists that was evacuating from Baghdad came under cross fire on Sunday on the edge of the Iraqi capital, an eyewitness said.

The convoy - six cars with diplomats and two with journalists - ended up in the midst of a clash between Iraqi and U.S. forces, Alexander Minakov, a reporter for Russia's Rossiya television told the channel in a live interview.

"We'd already got to a place where Iraqi forces had their positions - tanks, armored personnel carriers, armored fighting vehicles, artillery guns, trenches.

"And just as we were getting past, the Iraqi positions absolutely unexpectedly came under what was just extremely heavy fire.

"A shell hit a tank 150 meters from us and the tank exploded. Then shells started bursting 50 to 70 meters away, and there was massive fire from automatic rifles.

"Naturally, the Iraqis began to respond, and so we ended up under cross fire.

"The first three cars with diplomats were practically riddled. Our ambassador, Vladimir Titorenko, was just lucky: a bullet hit the windshield and flew between him and the driver. But, unfortunately, three members of staff got injured, one of them pretty heavily - he got a bullet wound in the stomach."

"After about 30 minutes," having bandaged the wounded, the Russians were about to move on, Minakov said.

"But then a large American armor convoy came up to the place where we were. They were moving past about 50 to 70 meters from us. They weren't heading for Baghdad but were sort of moving along the edge [of the city].

"We came out to them, started waving white pieces of cloth to catch their attention and ask their medics for help so that they should help our guys because they were bleeding white. No one stopped."

Only 40 minutes later "could we resume moving but one of the embassy cars was completely unserviceable and had to be left there," Minakov said.

When the convoy reached the Iraqi town of Feluja, three of the Russians were sent to an operating theater, he said. Two of them had pierced wounds in the leg and arm and scratched heads and necks. The third had a stomach injury but had surgery and doctors said his life was out of danger.

All the cars had holes in them, Minakov said. "For example, in our car, where two bullets hit the back, we've just specially taken a look - there are small holes there that fit the caliber of the M-16 [a U.S. rifle]."

Minakov confirmed that the ambassador had ordered all the diplomats to spend the night in Feluja.

"And, depending on how the injured diplomat feels tomorrow morning, they'll decide whether to go on to Syria or take some other option," the reporter said.

Damascus was the convoy's destination.

The journalists, however, had decided to go to Jordan after consulting the ambassador, Minakov said. "And that's what we've done," he said. He was telephoning from the Jordanian border.

"None of the journalists were injured except for the ORT [Russian TV channel] sound operator. He had his face and arms cut with glass," Minakov said.

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