By ROBERT H. REID, AP, May 26, 2009
BAGHDAD – A roadside bomb blasted a U.S. convoy west of Baghdad, killing three Americans, including a top reconstruction official who once headed the Illinois Commerce Commission, U.S. authorities said Tuesday.
The attack occurred Monday on the eastern outskirts of Fallujah, which used to be the main stronghold of Sunni insurgents until U.S. troops overran the city in November 2004 in the bitterest urban fighting of the Iraq war.
Since then, Fallujah, 40 miles (70 kilometers) west of Baghdad in Anbar province, has been among the most heavily guarded cities in Iraq. A fatal attack in such an area illustrates the resilience of the insurgents despite major setbacks on the battlefield during the past two years.
Those killed in the blast included Terrence "Terry" Barnich, 56, deputy director of the State Department office that oversees U.S. reconstruction projects in Iraq, as well as a U.S. soldier and a Defense Department employee working for the U.S. Embassy, according to a U.S. statement.
Two other people were wounded, the U.S. said. None of the victims except Barnich was identified.
"We and all who are working for a brighter future for Iraq condemn this terrible attack in the strongest possible terms," U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill said in a statement. "We remain committed as ever to helping Iraqis achieve the peace, stability and prosperity that will make such acts of terror a thing of the past."
At least four U.S. civilians have been killed in Iraq since Friday, when a defense contractor died in a rocket or mortar attack near the U.S. Embassy and another was found stabbed in his car. No arrests have been announced in the stabbing.
Barnich's sister, Rochelle Barnich, described her brother as a person with a great sense of humor who had been fascinated with politics since they were children. Barnich's family was notified of his death Monday.
Barnich served as chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission from 1989 to 1992. He also worked as chief counsel to former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson and as a campaign manager for Republican candidate Judy Baar Topinka when she ran for governor in 2006.
"He wanted to make the world and everything around him better," Topinka said. "He was so looking forward to going over there and making a difference. To have this happen to him is just such a waste."
Barnich moved to Iraq in 2007 and was an adviser to the Ministry of Electricity until he was hired as deputy director of the Iraq Transition Assistance Office in Baghdad.
Barnich had planned to stay in Iraq for 11 months but extended his stay because he loved the work, according to an associate, Craig Clausen. He planned to return to the United States in July and assume his former job as CEO of the Chicago consulting company New Paradigm Resources Group, according to Clausen.
The convoy was returning to Baghdad after inspecting a waste water treatment plant under construction in Fallujah, the largest and most complex U.S. government-funded project in Anbar province.
The project has been long-delayed by a litany of problems, including deficient contracting and administration, suspected sectarian discrimination by the Iraqi central government and poor contractor performance.
Insurgents once held sway over Fallujah and the rest of Anbar, the largest of Iraq's 18 provinces. The city gained notoriety in 2004 when insurgents killed four employees of the Blackwater security firm and hung their bodies from a bridge.
Fighting raged in Anbar even after U.S. troops captured Fallujah. But violence fell off dramatically two years later when Sunni tribesmen turned against al-Qaida in Iraq and joined forces with American troops.
Last year, the U.S. military withdrew from most of Anbar's cities, including Fallujah, well ahead of a June 30 deadline for U.S. troops to leave Iraq's urban areas.
Like many cities in Iraq, Fallujah has a number of U.S.-supported reconstruction projects, many of them aimed at improving essential services and promoting businesses.
At least five other State Department employees have been killed in Iraq, including Steven Farley, who died in a June 2008 bombing at an Iraqi council building in Baghdad's Sadr City.
As of Monday, at least 4,301 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Associated Press Writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Carla K. Johnson in Chicago contributed to this report.