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Bulgaria president shot at in Iraq


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SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Bulgaria's president has been shot at as he visited his country's troops in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, officials say.

The defense ministry in Sofia said Monday Georgi Parvanov was unharmed in the attack on his convoy by unknown gunmen as it traveled between the camps of Bulgarian and Polish troops.

Parvanov flew into Iraq on Sunday two days after a Bulgarian soldier was killed in an ambush on his convoy in Karbala, where militants loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have stepped up attacks against U.S.-led forces in recent weeks.

General Dimitar Vladimirov, who accompanied the president during his visit, told reporters the attackers fled after the president's security team counterattacked.

"The president's car was shot up. No one was hurt," defense ministry spokeswoman Rumiana Strugarova told Reuters.

"The attack took about five minutes, and we suppose the attackers were Shi'ite militants. The president returned to Bulgaria in the early hours of the morning."

He flew home with the body of 25-year-old Sgt. Dimitar Dimitrov -- the sixth Bulgarian to lose his life in Iraq -- and at least seven soldiers suffering from "combat stress," Strugarova said.

Parvanov's visit, on which he was briefed on on the "structure and mission" of the Bulgarian contingent, has fueled debate in the new NATO member state over the safety of its 450-strong light infantry battalion, according to Reuters.

The Balkan state is a strong supporter of the U.S.-led military occupation of Iraq. It has promised to keep its troops in Karbala until power is handed over to Iraqi authorities, despite pullouts announced by Spain and other countries.

Another leader, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, made a surprise visit to Iraq early Sunday, joining Australian troops in Baghdad for ceremonies honoring the country's war dead.

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