#2 - JRL 7134
Russian envoy says U.S. fired at convoy in Iraq
By Inal Ersan
DAMASCUS, April 7 (Reuters) - The Russian ambassador to Iraq arrived in Syria from Baghdad on Monday in a diplomatic convoy which he said had come under fire from U.S. forces in Iraq, injuring five people.
"After leaving Baghdad...we faced a number of American armoured vehicles, tanks and guns," Ambassador Vladimir Titorenko told reporters near the border, adding the convoy had stopped when they saw military vehicles.
"There was shooting (at us), and some hand grenades were thrown at other vehicles," he said. "We tried to warn them, but they fired at us directly, and the shooting continued for about 40 minutes."
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said five Russian diplomats were injured in the attack on Sunday. Titorenko, who was driving his own car, said his driver had been left in Iraq to be treated for "serious injuries" sustained in the attack.
He told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television it was clear that the convoy, which included diplomats and journalists, were "foreigners and not Arabs."
"The economic adviser tried by hand signals to explain to them we were foreigners but instead of responding to him, they opened fire on him...and now his head has been injured," he said.
"I immediately notified Moscow and immediately notified the embassy that Americans opened fire on a Russian embassy car and above all the car of the Russian ambassador," he said.
Titorenko said three or four civilian cars were close by and two people in those cars were killed.
The U.S. Army said it had no troops in the Baghdad suburb where the incident took place, but a Russian television correspondent who had been in the convoy said it had been caught in crossfire between U.S. and Iraqi forces.
In Moscow, a senior U.S. diplomat later said the incident had occurred in an area where U.S. forces were active.
He said U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice -- in Russia for talks aimed at improving relations strained by differences over the Iraq war -- had stressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the United States did not wish the Russian diplomats any harm.
"We don't take responsibility...But it does appear the Russian convoy came into an area where we were engaged in a firefight with Iraqi forces. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.
U.S. officials, he said, had tried to coordinate the departure of the diplomats, "but we also indicated that we can't give absolute guarantees. It is a war zone."
On Monday the convoy arrived at Syria's al-Tanf border crossing and was met by officials from the Russian embassy in Damascus. The convoy later arrived in the Syrian capital.
"I saw six cars with Iraqi diplomatic number plates including the (Russian) ambassador's car," a Reuters cameraman at the border said.
"He was driving his car which had two bullet holes in it, one in the glass and one on the driver's side. The other cars also had bullet holes."
The Russian diplomats were resting in the embassy compound and were expected to fly to Moscow on Tuesday aboard a Russian plane, diplomatic and aviation sources said.
One of the injured, who had earlier received first-aid, was taken to hospital for further treatment, a diplomatic source said. The man appeared to have sustained arm and head injuries, witnesses said.
(Additional reporting by Marwan Makdisi and Ron Popeski)