The family of an Ohio woman killed while helping to promote democracy in Iraq said she embraced challenges and put others around her first.

Andrea Parhamovich, 28, died this week in an ambush on a convoy of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute. On Thursday, an Al Qaeda-linked coalition of Iraqi Sunni insurgents claimed responsibility.

"Andi's desire to help strangers in such a dangerous environment thousands of miles away might be difficult for others to understand, but to us, it epitomized Andi's natural curiosity and unwavering commitment," her family said in a statement Thursday. "She was passionate, bold and caring, as exemplified by her work to improve the lives of all Iraqis."

Also killed in the attack Wednesday were three security contractors from Hungary, Croatia and Iraq. Two other people were wounded, one seriously.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad condemned the attack.

"The National Democratic Institute does excellent work to support Iraq's still young democracy," embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said. "The targeting of individuals and organizations whose chief aim is to better the lives of the Iraqi people is deplorable and our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of those who are killed."

In its statement, the family appealed for privacy and extended condolences, thoughts and prayers to "the families of those who gave their lives while protecting Andi."

Parhamovich, a graduate of Marietta College in southeast Ohio, had been working with NDI in Baghdad since late 2006. She helped Iraqi political parties reach out to voters.

She was helping "build the kind of national level political institutions that can help bridge the sectarian divide and improve Iraqi lives," NDI said.

"She definitely had a personality that she was going to make a difference in people's lives," said Pat Giannell, a world history teacher at Perry High School, from which Parhamovich graduated in 1996.

Giannell kept in touch with Parhamovich and last spoke to her about a year ago.

"For her to die like that is not imaginable because she was the opposite of that type of lifestyle. She was a peaceful person," Giannell said.

Tom Perry, spokesman for Marietta College, knew Parhamovich when she worked in the liberal arts school's media relations office as a student.

"We saw what an excellent person she was, and she obviously had a passion for something and wanted to go there and be a part of it," Perry said. "We're proud she wanted to do this. It shows it's not just the soldiers who are in harm's way."

Parhamovich graduated in 2000 with a degree in advertising and public relations with a minor in journalism, Perry said. She worked for film company Miramax in New York for a short time, he said.

She worked at a private public relations firm in Andover, Mass., in 2000 and 2001 before leaving to work as a communications aide in the state Department of Economic Development under then-Gov. Jane Swift, The Boston Globe reported.

"I knew she had a desire to work in the nonprofit and government sector, but when I heard about her passing in Iraq, I was shocked," Mark Nardone, executive vice president at PAN Communications, told The Globe.

Parhamovich also worked for Mass Insight, a public policy institute in Boston, the newspaper reported.

A statement released by NDI said Parhamovich also worked at Air America Radio and at the International Republican Institute in Iraq before joining NDI.

Giannell said he didn't know details about what his former student was doing in Iraq but was not surprised her ambition carried her there.

"She always liked to travel," he said. "She always wanted to go to different places. She definitely had a global attitude."