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Russian convoy fired on in Iraq

Witness: Convoy caught in U.S.-Iraqi crossfire

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FALLUJAH, Iraq (CNN) -- A convoy of vehicles carrying Russian diplomats and journalists came under fire Sunday as it headed out of Baghdad, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

There were conflicting reports about how many people were hurt, who was responsible, and whether the convoy was attacked or accidentally caught in crossfire between Iraqi and coalition troops.

U.S. Central Command said the convoy was attacked in territory controlled by the Iraqi government, and that no coalition forces were operating in the area at the time of the incident.

U.S. Army officials with the 3-7th Cavalry said coalition soldiers did not fire on the convoy and that the shooters were probably from Saddam Fedayeen, fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein.

A journalist traveling in the convoy, however, reported they were caught in crossfire.

Alexander Minakov, who works with Rossiya TV (formerly RTR), said in a telephone report that he was in one of eight cars that set off from Baghdad at 11:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. ET), bound for the Syrian border. The vehicles carried 25 Russian diplomats, including Russia's ambassador to Iraq, and journalists who were trying to flee the country.

The journalists included a three-man crew from Rossiya, a crew from First Channel (ORT), and a crew from TVS.

Around noon, about 30 km outside the capital, as the convoy passed a group of Iraqi tanks and artillery, U.S. forces opened fire, Minakov said.

An Iraqi tank about 150 meters from the convoy was hit, and shells exploded near the convoy. The journalists heard automatic fire, he said.

The Iraqis then responded with their own fire, and the Russian convoy was caught in the middle, Minakov said.

A bullet pierced the window of Ambassador Vladimir Titorenko's car, passing between him and the driver, he said. Three people were wounded -- one with a "pretty serious" stomach wound, Minakov said.

But the Russian Foreign Ministry said there were five injuries, all of them minor, including Titorenko's, a spokesman said.

In a statement, U.S. Central Command said initial reports revealed no coalition forces operating in the area at the time.

"Based on the reported location, the incident is believed to have taken place in territory controlled by the Iraqi regime," Central Command said. "The inquiry into this incident continues and more details will be made available as soon as possible."

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow told CNN that U.S. officials were "in close contact" with the Russian government but had not determined who was responsible for the shooting.

The United States was trying to establish direct contact between the Russian convoy and the U.S. military on the ground to provide help, the spokesman said.

According to Minakov, after the shooting the convoy proceeded to the town of Fallujah, 40 km west of Baghdad. There, doctors attended to two people who had head and neck injuries and operated on the person with the stomach wound, Minakov said.

The Russian diplomatic personnel remained in the town, while the journalists continued to the Jordanian border, he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was preparing to send a plane carrying doctors and medical equipment to Syria to evacuate those remaining.

CNN's Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty and CNN Correspondents Walter Rodgers and Sheila MacVicar contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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