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Company commander dies on mission to clear houses in Fallujah

FALLUJAH, Iraq—Capt. Sean Sims was up early Saturday, looking at maps of Fallujah and thinking of the day's battle. His fingers, dirty and cracked, traced a route that snaked down the city's southern corridor.

"We've killed a lot of bad guys," he said. "But there's always going to be some guys left. They'll hide out and snipe at us for two months. I hope we've gotten the organized resistance."

Sims, a 32-year-old from Eddy, Texas, commanded his Alpha Company without raising his voice. His men liked and respected him. When faced with a broken down vehicle or rocket propelled grenades exploding outside, he'd shake his head a little and say, in his mellow drawl, "We'll be OK. This'll work out."

When he noticed that one of his soldiers, 22-year-old Arthur Wright, wasn't getting any care packages from home, Sims arranged for his wife, a school teacher, to have her students send cards and presents.

Sitting in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that was pocked by shrapnel from five days of heavy fighting, Sims figured he and his men—of the 1st Infantry Division's Task Force 2-2—had maybe three or four days left before returning to base.

They were in southwest Fallujah, where pockets of hardcore gunmen were still shooting from houses connected by labyrinths of covered trench lines and low rooftops.

A CNN crew came by, and Sims' men led them around the ruins, showing them the bombed-out buildings and bodies of insurgents that had been gnawed on by neighborhood dogs and cats.

The father of an infant son, Sims was still trying to get over the death of his company's executive officer, Lt. Edward Iwan, a 28-year-old from Albion, Neb., who'd been shot through the torso the night before with an RPG.

"It's tough. I don't know what to think about it yet," he said slowly, searching for words. "All of this will be forever tainted because we lost him."

Shaking off the thought, he threw on his gear and went looking for houses to clear.

A group of rebels was waiting. They'd been sleeping for days on dirty mats and blankets, eating green peppers and dates from plastic tubs. They spied on soldiers who occupied nearby houses without knowing the enemy was so close, watching and waiting.

When Sims and his men came through the front door, gunfire raged for a few minutes. Two soldiers were hit near the shoulder and rushed out by the man next to them.

Crouching by a wall outside, Sgt. Randy Laird screamed into his radio, "Negative, I cannot move, we're pinned down right now! We have friendlies down! Friendlies down!"

The 24-year-old from Lake Charles, La., crouched down on a knee, sweating and waiting for help.

A line of troops ran up, taking cover from the bullets. They shot their way into the house.

Sims lay on a kitchen floor, his blood pouring across dirty tile. An empty tea pot sat on nearby concrete stairs. A valentine heart, drawn in red with an arrow through it, perched on the cabinet.

His men gasped. There was no life in his eyes.

"He's down," Staff Sgt. Thorsten Lamm, 37, said in the heavy brogue of his native Germany.

"Shut the (expletive) up about him being dead," yelled back Sgt. Joseph Alvey, 23, of Emid, Oklahoma. "Just shut the (expletive) up."

The men sprinted to a rubble-strewn house to get a medic.

The company's Iraqi translator, who goes by Sami, was waiting. He asked, "Is he in there? Is he there?"

He tried running out of the door with his AK-47 ready. As men held him back, he fell down against a wall, crying into his hands.

When the troops rushed back, they lifted Sims' body into a pile of blankets and carried it into the closest Bradley.

Six soldiers and a reporter piled in after, trying not to step on the body.

In Baghdad, interim Minister of State for national security Qasim Daoud had announced that the city of Fallujah was now under control.

In the surrounding neighborhood, troops furious at the news of their fallen leader called in revenge, in the form of a 2,000 pound bomb airstrike and a storm of 155 millimeter artillery shells. A mosque lost half a minaret, its main building smoldering in fire and smoke.

In the back of the Bradley with Sims' body, no one spoke.

The only sound was Wright sobbing in the darkness.

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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