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ABC News anchor, cameraman injured by roadside bomb

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A roadside bomb seriously wounded ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and ABC News cameraman Doug Vogt Sunday as they were riding with Iraqi troops near the town of Taji, 25 miles north of Baghdad.

Woodruff and Vogt were standing with their heads outside the hatch of a Russian-made Iraqi military personnel carrier, apparently filming, when the explosion rocked the vehicle. Both men received shrapnel wounds to the head. An Iraqi army officer who was helping them lost four fingers. The vehicle's driver was uninjured.

Bashar Mahmoud Ayoub, commander of the 9th Division of the Iraqi Army based in Taji, said Woodruff and Vogt had been in a Humvee but asked to move to the Iraqi vehicle, which was the lead vehicle in a joint U.S.-Iraqi convoy. Ayoub said roadside bombs, known in military parlance as improvised explosive devices or IEDs, are common in the area.

"We suffer on this road every time we pass it. It is filled with IEDs. They target my men daily," he said. "There are so many, you cannot imagine it."

Woodruff, who was named co-anchor of ABC's nightly news broadcast in December, is the best-known American journalist wounded or killed in Iraq since fighting began there in March 2003. Nearly 9 million Americans watch ABC's "World News Tonight" nightly.

IEDs are the primary killers of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Roadside bombs have killed 23 U.S. troops so far in January, according to Iraq Casualty Count. There are no official statistics for the number of Iraqi soldiers who have died in similar blasts.

ABC officials in New York said that both Woodruff, 44, and Vogt, 46, were wearing body armor and helmets, but had suffered shrapnel wounds to the head. Both men were taken by helicopter to a U.S. military hospital in Balad, Iraq. Following surgery, both were listed in serious but stable condition, said ABC News President David Westin.

"We take this as good news, but the next few days will be critical," Westin said. "The military plans to evacuate them to their medical facilities in Landstuhl (Germany), probably overnight tonight."

In a statement posted on the ABC Web site, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the nation's thoughts and prayers are with the two journalists.

"We are praying for their full and speedy recovery," Duffy said. "Our thoughts are with their families and their loved ones. The White House is offering to help in any way as the government does when any American is injured in the line of work."

Iraq is the most dangerous place on earth for reporters. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 61 reporters have been killed due to hostile action in Iraq. Thirty-seven have been abducted by armed groups, the CPJ reports, including Jill Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor, who is still being held.

Although largely farmland, Taji was known before the war as a place where ammunitions and military equipment were made. Now filled with old ammunitions parts, it is one of the most violent areas of Iraq. Earlier this month, two U.S. soldiers were killed near there when their AH-64 Apache helicopter crashed. Two insurgent groups claimed responsibility.

On Sunday, Woodruff and Vogt, who were embedded with the 4th Infantry Division, were taking part in a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol operation. The patrol left the Taji base and was headed out to a nearby munitions dump filled with old weapons, Ayoub said.

Local police and military personnel who had discovered the site three months ago believe that insurgents were using the old weapons to make new IEDs.

Woodruff and Vogt were traveling in a Humvee when they left the base, but asked to be moved to the Iraqi military personnel carrier, Ayoub said. Doing so placed them in the lead vehicle, which is the most dangerous vehicle in any military convoy. Once inside the vehicle, both men apparently stuck their heads out and began filming, Ayoub said. The IED exploded about seven miles from the base at around 12:30 p.m. local time.

"They were in the lead vehicle and they were up in the hatch, so they were exposed," said ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz in an appearance Sunday on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

Woodruff had spent much of Saturday interviewing Iraqi troops at the Taji base, Ayoub said. He said he and his colleagues were immediately impressed by Woodruff.

"He never sat down. He was enthusiastic. He was a ball of activity," Ayoub said.

After the blast, the convoy received light arms fire as well, Raddatz said. "This is very common over there now," she said. "These attacks are planned, and this is a secondary attack. Sometimes when medical personnel come in, they'll have small arms fire following up on that."

Woodruff had traveled to Iraq as part of ABC News' plans to cover President Bush's State of the Union speech on Tuesday, said ABC News vice president Jeffrey Schneider.

Both men were experienced war correspondents. Woodruff, who grew up in suburban Detroit, had reported from Iraq previously, including a several-months-long assignment in 2004. He traveled with the First Marine Division, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, during the initial U.S. invasion, Schneider said. He'd also covered the war in Afghanistan.

Vogt, a Canadian who lives in Aix-en-Provence, France, is a three-time Emmy Award winner who has been with ABC News for 15 years, Schneider said. He has worked previously covering global events for CBC and BBC.

Vogt was recently in another convoy in which someone was killed by an IED but Vogt wasn't injured. Vogt was sitting next to ABC producer David Kaplan when Kaplan was killed in Bosnia in 1992, Schneider said.

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(Youssef and Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent Ahmed reported from Baghdad; Pugh reported from Washington.)

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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