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U.S. soldier fatally shot in Iraq as `Sidewinder' winds down

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A U.S. soldier was shot in the head after buying a Pepsi in the cafeteria of Baghdad University Sunday, a day after a young British journalist was killed outside a Baghdad museum from a shot fired at close range.

Witnesses said the attack occurred around 12:30 p.m., as classes were ending for the day. The soldier, who was in uniform, had purchased a soft drink and was standing near the steps leading to the cafeteria when he was shot from behind. He was taken to hospital in a helicopter where he later died.

The latest attack came as the U.S. military declared the end of "Operation Sidewinder," its third major sweep of Iraqi insurgents believed to be behind the attacks on American soldiers. The week-long operation resulted in 282 individuals being detained along with a variety of weapons, including 96 AK-47 rifles and 217 rocket propelled grenades, according to a statement by Central Command.

Operation Sidewinder followed similar operations, dubbed "Peninsula Strike" and "Desert Scorpion." Central Command said that "the nexus of paramilitary activity in Central Iraq is located along a stretch of the Tigris River from Bayji to Baghdad." The series of raids targeted former Baath Party loyalists, former Iraqi military leaders, and other "subversive elements" suspected of organizing attacks against U.S. forces.

But in recent days, it's become clear that Iraqis who are either loyal to Saddam Hussein or are simply fighting the occupation are now focusing on softer—including non-military—targets.

There were plenty of eyewitnesses to Sunday's shooting at the university.

"I heard one shot and saw a young man run away with a small pistol," said Ali Jumaa, 29, a professor of engineering. "I think he planned the attack ahead of time."

"I saw the American soldier alone drinking a Pepsi," said Wahbi Abdu al Satar, 30, a student in the mathematics department. "He was very tall and he took off his hat. A young man who was standing half a meter away shot him in the temple and he fell to the ground."

The soldier was a civil affairs officer with the 352nd Civil Affairs Detachment.

"The civil affairs soldier was a reservist who came here to find a way to improve the living conditions of the Iraqis," said Army Major William Thurmond, coalition spokesman. "We think it's further proof of the despicable nature of the enemy we're facing."

The early afternoon killing occurred in the center of campus, in an area where students regularly gather. Nearly 100 students who were talking with friends ran as soon as they heard the gunfire. Worried parents then flocked to the campus, waiting on the side of the road for their sons and daughters to exit one of the university's main gates. Soldiers lined the road and would not let anyone enter.

"I'm very worried about my daughter going to school now," said Ena'am Selman, who anxiously waited for his 22-year-old daughter to exit the campus. "I hope this is the first and last attack to take place at a university."

"The university is a large area and we have had some security concerns," said Thurmond, who spoke to reporters at the scene. "We secured the campus and have searched students and vehicles."

The shooting may be a continuation of attacks on softer targets. On Saturday afternoon, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the International Organization for Migration office in Mosul, nearly 240 miles northwest of Baghdad. Hamid Abdel-Jabar, a spokesman for the United Nation's special representative in Iraq, said that the wall of the compound was damaged and that a local Iraqi was slightly injured.

Also Saturday, a young British journalist was killed outside of Iraq's Natural History Museum. The 24-year-old freelance cameraman, identified by colleagues as Richard Wilde, was killed by a single bullet that was fired into his head at close range. Wilde had been in Iraq for less then two weeks, and is the first journalist to be killed in Iraq since President Bush declared that "major combat" ended on May 1.

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ

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