Poles in Iraq X: Road Ambush Kills Two Soldiers

Back to serious tragedies now, inevitably having to do with Iraq. In fact, today’s reports in the Polish press about the death of two Polish soldiers echo quite a lot of a similar incident I discussed here a few days ago which killed a Dutch soldier.

Once again this involved a convoy of two unarmored vehicles suddenly taken under fire while driving through Iraq. (The coverage in Rzeczpospolita calls the jeep-version the Poles were using “Honkers.” By the way, there’s a good graphic here that gives you a diagram of what happened in the incident, where it took place in Iraq – namely in al-Hillah, just south of Baghdad – and even the photos and names of the two soldiers killed.) Only this time it wasn’t the gunfire that killed anyone, but rather the Poles’ reaction: as the vehicles accelerated along the road to evade the fire, the lead “Honker” went out of control and swerved in such a way that the following one collided with it. That’s when the two soldiers were killed, and five more of their colleagues wounded.

As Gazeta Wyborcza notes, both privates Rusinek and Kutrzyk (the victims) had only been in Iraq since 3 August. Gazeta also explores an additional aspect of the incident that may recall the Dutch: the two vehicles were judged to have acted correctly in simply accelerating to get the heck out of there once they came under fire (and let the rapid reaction force follow-up to deal with the gunmen). All of this was inevitably the subject of a press conference in Warsaw held by no less than General Edward Pietrzyk, commander of land forces, and General Pietrzyk confirmed that “We’ve gotten out of trouble that way already many times.” Adding more to the general’s remarks, coverage in Dziennik Polski (Fatal Patrol) had him emphasizing that, in such situations, troops were in fact generally not authorized to return fire, so as to not endanger by-standers living nearby.


All the newspapers remark that these two deaths make a total of thirteen Poles who have died in Iraq so far: nine soldiers, two Poles working security for private contractors, and two TV-journalists. (Rzeczpospolita gives the whole “death scorecard” for troops in the Polish-commanded sector, if you’re interested: seven Ukrainians, six Bulgarians, three Slovaks, and so on.) But only Dziennik Polski features an intriguing analysis of the Poles’ situation in Iraq by one Captain Artur Golawski, deputy editor of the monthly magazine Zolnierz Polski (= “Polish Soldier”). Why was that convoy fired upon in the first place? CPT Golawski offers three possible reasons: 1) To test the reactions of the new commander of the Polish division to hostile action; 2) To test the just-arrived soldiers themselves, to see whether they could be intimidated by a few bullets aimed their way; and 3) Simply because violence has stepped up generally in that entire area south of Baghdad, with its centerpiece of course being the stand-off between rebellious Shi’ite forces and the Americans and Iraqi government forces in Najaf. What’s more, the main Polish base at Babylon was recently mortared during the day – something quite new, since it had only been mortared during the night before.

To deal with all this, CPT Golawski maintains, an aggressive reaction is the best reaction, as any perceived weakness will only make things worse: more patrolling around the Babylon base, and better protection for such vehicle convoys. Also particularly important is a quick and robust response to any such hostile incidents from a quick reaction force, which apparently did occur this time. And while none of the reporting newspapers had any details about what, if anything, the quick reaction force accomplished in al-Hillah (although presumably it at least provided cover to the vehicle wreckage so the dead and wounded could be transported away), CPT Golawski is able to reveal at the very end of his analysis that “not only our side suffered losses in this skirmish.”

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