Two Latvian soldiers killed, 3 wounded in Iraq

The Associated Press
Published: December 27, 2006

RIGA, Latvia: Two Latvian soldiers were killed and three wounded in Iraq on Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded under their patrol vehicle, the Defense Ministry said.

The explosion occurred while the group was on patrol west of the city of Diwaniyah, where Latvia’s 130-strong contingent is serving with Polish troops, military spokesman Cpt. Reinis Basko told reporters in Riga. Diwaniyah is about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Baghdad.

The victims were identified as Pvt. 1st Class Gints Bleija, 25, and Pvt 1st Class Vitalijs Vasiljevs, 24. They were the Baltic country’s first casualties in Iraq since a Latvian soldier was killed in 2004.

Brig. Gen. Juris Maklokovs, the chief of Latvia’s armed forces, said one of the wounded soldiers needed an operation. The other two had minor injuries.

Maklokovs said the bomb exploded while soldiers, who were scheduled to be rotated out of Iraq, were showing the area to their replacements in a Humvee.

A defense ministry spokesman said the families of the dead soldiers would receive 50,000 lats (US$96,000, €71,000) compensation.

Latvia, which joined NATO 2004, is a staunch ally of the U.S. in Iraq. In October, Parliament voted to extend the mission until Dec. 31, 2007.