Three U.S. Embassy guards killed in rocket attack in Baghdad's Green Zone

By Ernesto Londoño
Friday, July 23, 2010

BAGHDAD -- A rocket attack in Baghdad's Green Zone Thursday afternoon killed three guards employed by the U.S. Embassy and wounded 15 people, including two Americans, the embassy said.

Two of the guards killed were Ugandan and one was Peruvian, embassy officials said.

Also Thursday, Iraqi officials disclosed that four detainees linked to the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq escaped this week from a prison the United States handed over to Iraqi control last week.

In a statement on the Green Zone attack, the embassy said those killed or wounded worked for a government contractor that protects U.S. facilities in Iraq. Herndon-based Triple Canopy employs the Ugandan and Peruvian guards who work at the embassy.

The statement did not say whether the rocket landed inside the embassy compound. Some of the guards work at outer checkpoints.

The United States has long employed Peruvian guards to protect civilian and military installations in Iraq. In recent months, according to guards, it has begun phasing out Peruvians in favor of Ugandans, who work for less money. Guards from third-country nations earn $450 to $1,000 a month, the guards said.

Insurgents have for years lobbed rockets toward the heavily guarded, sprawling U.S. Embassy compound inside the Green Zone. Such attacks intensified in the spring and summer of 2007 and again in the spring of 2008, and have since occurred sporadically. Most do not result in casualties.

The attack underscored the tenuousness of security a month before the U.S. military is scheduled to declare the nominal end of its combat mission in Iraq and reduce its troop level to 50,000.

Although violence has decreased in the country, attacks occur almost daily, and many Iraqis fear that political violence will intensify in the months ahead as a struggle for power spawned by the inconclusive March 7 parliamentary elections drags on.

At least two of the inmates whose escapes were disclosed Thursday are reportedly senior members of the Islamic State of Iraq, the umbrella organization that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq. The two men were the finance and interior ministers of the Islamic State of Iraq, which sought to form a shadow government in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta, an Iraqi military spokesman, said on Iraqi television that the Justice Ministry was to blame for the break, which reportedly occurred Tuesday.

"It is not our responsibility," he said.

The U.S. military handed over control of the Camp Cropper prison to the Iraqi government last Thursday. During the ceremony, U.S. commanders expressed confidence in the Justice Ministry's ability to run the prison, which houses some of Iraq's most notorious insurgents.

"This is the first day of a new era," said Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon, the U.S. officer in charge of detainee operations, according to a news release. "One in which all elements of the Iraqi criminal justice system are able to assert their role in providing the continued safety and security of the Iraqi people."

Iraqi officials said the new warden of the prison, Omar Khalisa, who had been appointed at the urging of U.S. officials, vanished shortly after the jailbreak.

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