The job in Iraq was a challenge John Robert Tyrrell could not resist.

His family in New Zealand did not want him to go, but the money he was making as an engineer with a road construction project in the oil-rich Kirkut region was good and he believed the area was safe.

But almost six months after his work began, the 53-year-old was mowed down by Iraqi gunmen.

The assailants opened fire with AK-47 rifles in a drive-by shooting as Mr Tyrrell, a South African colleague and their Iraqi driver were leaving their residence in Kirkuk, 250km north of Baghdad.

The South African and Iraqi were killed during the shooting. Mr Tyrrell died of his wounds hours later in hospital.

Last night his brother, Dan Tyrrell, told the Herald that the New Plymouth-born construction engineer was no thrill seeker, but a gentle man.

Mr Tyrrell said his brother went to Iraq as second in charge of a company there despite family protest.

"He said it was a worthwhile project and that there was adequate security."

John Tyrrell was working in Thailand when he met and married Fon. He became a Buddhist before the couple married, and Dan Tyrrell said the funeral and cremation would be Buddhist ceremonies.

The couple have three children.

The 1.93m engineer went where his skills were needed.

"He didn't make a habit of going to hot spots around the world," Dan Tyrrell said.

"He had a family he cared a lot about, and he wasn't an idiot."

The head of Kirkut's security forces, Major General Anwar Mohammed Amin, said it was likely that the men were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The attack came hours before the Arabic television network al-Jazeera screened a videotape it said was from an unknown Iraqi group that vowed to kidnap and kill Arab and foreign workers - especially Kuwaitis - in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

The tape showed a group of masked men, some holding automatic rifles, and one man reading a statement.

The AP news agency reported that Mr Tyrrell and his South African colleague were employed by a construction company contracted by the United States Government on a road project in the Kirkuk area.

Dan Tyrrell, who has an engineering business in New Plymouth, said the family emigrated from England to Taranaki 32 years ago.

His brother had worked on a number of projects in Taranaki, including the synthetic petrol plant at Motunui, and on similar projects around the world.

"He was one of a group who all knew each other and tended to work together on different jobs."

Dan Tyrrell believed the Iraqi people would be mourning his brother's death as much as his family were. His body would be taken back to Thailand.

Prime Minister Helen Clark extended her deepest condolences to his family.

"I am saddened at the tragic death of Mr Tyrrell and my thoughts are with his family and friends, both in New Zealand and overseas," she said.

"It is a tragedy that a New Zealander has been caught up in the conflict.

"Iraq is an extremely dangerous place for foreigners."

She said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was repeating its longstanding advice that New Zealanders should not travel to Iraq and any civilians there should leave immediately.

"Our hearts go out to Mr Tyrrell's family and friends at this sad time."

Helen Clark said New Zealanders did "exciting and challenging work" overseas, and she understood why people would go to work in Iraq.

"A lot of people are trying to get ahead for their families. They see the money - it's very big money for security guards or in the case of this man, someone working in the construction industry.

"People see the opportunity to clear the mortgage and put the family on a sound financial footing.

"The other side of that is that you might not see your family again, as tragically has happened in this case.

"We just urge people to think about that."

Defence Minister Mark Burton said that despite the attack, New Zealand defence personnel would carry on with their valuable humanitarian and reconstruction work.

"We knew on day one, we said very clearly this was a high-risk deployment," he said.

"It's a matter of daily judgment."

The New Plymouth family of Andreas Schafer, who has been missing in Iraq, are expecting him to be released soon.

Ursula Schafer said yesterday that she had received word from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that her son was likely to be released in the near future.

She said that it was wonderful news after a lengthy period of no information at all.

- additional reporting, NZPA

Herald Feature: Iraq

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