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An Iraqi contractor working for Stars and Stripes was killed Sunday by gunmen who ambushed a delivery vehicle after it dropped off newspapers at a U.S. military base near Balad.

A second contractor for Stripes was critically wounded in the incident, and an unrelated translator working for the U.S. military also was killed.

The translator apparently had asked the two contractors for a ride back to Baghdad.

According to Rick Braun, Stars and Stripes general manager in Europe, the pair of contractors had just completed their daily delivery to the sprawling military complex at Balad and were returning to Baghdad on a well-traveled main road.

They were ambushed by unknown assailants about 20 minutes away from Balad, he said.

The surviving contractor was shot five times but managed to drive the vehicle to a U.S. military checkpoint.

Soldiers there called in a medical evacuation for the man, who was taken to the 10th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad’s Green Zone, where he is listed in critical condition.

Both men, whose names have not been released, have families, said Robert Reismann, Stripes circulation director for the Middle East.

The incident is at least the second time contractors printing and delivering the newspaper in Iraq have been attacked.

In May 2005, 32-year-old Muhammed Dawood was killed in an ambush after delivering newspapers to U.S. bases in Ramadi and Fallujah.

Sunday’s incident was among several on “Freedom Day,” a holiday that commemorates the moment on April 9, 2003, when Iraqis and U.S. Marines tore down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square.

At least 15 other people were killed in violence in different parts of the country on Sunday, according to news reports.

Stars and Stripes prints and distributes some 45,000 copies of the newspaper each day in Iraq.

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