TALLINN - Estonia's peacekeepers in Iraq registered their second fatality this week when 28-year-old Arre Illenzeer was killed in a Baghdad explosion on the morning of Oct. 25. Five other Estonian soldiers were wounded in the incident.
According to Estonian Defense Force staff, soldiers from ESTPLA-9, the peacekeeping unit in Iraq, were in their trucks on a patrol mission when a makeshift bomb exploded beneath one of the vehicles.
The coalition soldiers were driving two trucks, the second of which triggered the explosion. Illenzeer, who was driving the second truck, died immediately, according to Major Sten Reimann of the Defense Force staff.
Reimann said the explosive device that took Illenzeer's life was apparently buried under or close to the road and thus not visible.
He added that the explosion left a crater the size of the vehicle, allowing him to assume that there had been 50 kilograms - 100 kilograms of explosives.
First Sergeant Illenzer, who was the squad technician, had served in the Defense Forces since 1997 and took part in the 2003 peacekeeping operation in Kosovo.
As of Oct. 25, two seriously wounded soldiers have remained under U.N. military medic supervision. Force members have informed relatives about the tragic event and expressed their deep condolences.
Chief commander of the Estonian Defense Force Rear Admiral Tarmo Kouts said that it was still unclear whether an armored vehicle could have prevented the explosion's fatal results. The trucks used by Estonian troops in Iraq have minimal engine and bottom protection.
During a press conference on the evening of the incident, Prime Minister Juhan Parts said that it would be better if Estonia carried on with fulfilling its responsibilities in Iraq until the current mission expired on June 30, 2005.
"We have to understand that in order to be protected, we must be ready to help others outside Estonia. This [participation in the peacekeeping operation in Iraq] was not a light-minded but a very carefully thought out decision," said Parts.
"We are analyzing the needs of the mission. What will happen next depends upon future developments. The key issue is the elections in Iraq, after those we can make long term decisions," the prime minister added.
The current shift of the 32-strong ESTPLA-9 unit has been on mission in Iraq since June 2004. Estonian peacekeepers joined the peacekeeping operation in Iraq under U.S. command in June 2003.
Sergeant Andres Nuiamae, 21, died in Iraq on Feb. 28 this year during a mine explosion. A total of 10 Estonian soldiers have been wounded in Iraq.
Estonian soldiers are also participating in peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo. In all, 184 Estonian soldiers and officers are currently serving abroad.