A Latvian officer was among five or six soldiers killed in a June 8 explosion during a demining operation in the Polish sector of Iraq, according to Latvian media reports and the Associated Press. He is the first Latvian and second Baltic soldier to die in the war.
First Lt. Olafs Baumanis, 34, died in what the Latvian Ministry of Defence describes as an accident. He and other ordnance specialists were attempting to defuse munitions in a munitions dump near Suwariyah, a city southeast of Baghdad. Reports differ about how many soldiers were killed, but Polish and Slovakian authorities have confirmed that they also lost soldiers.
“Today is a difficult day,” Defence Minister Atis Slakteris said in a statement issued by the ministry. “Latvia has lost a son who, fulfilling his duty far from home, has paid the ultimate price—his life. Latvia has lost a soldier whom it will never forget.”
Coalition officials have begun an investigation into the accident, according to the ministry of defence.
The Latvian team of unexploded ordnance specialists was dispatched to the Suwariyah area on June 1 and was expected to continue its work there through June 22. In the first week alone, the ministry said, the team neutralized 19,859 explosives of different types, including artillery shells, grenades and mines.
A total of 116 Latvian soldiers are serving in Iraq, according to the latest ministry of defence figures. Some Latvian soliders have come under fire during patrols, but have suffered no casualties during these operations. The most recent attacks came the night of June 4 at two bases in which Latvian soldiers are stationed.
An Estonian soldier, 21-year-old Junior Sgt. Andres Nuiamäe, was killed Feb. 28 by an improvised explosive device.
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