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Reporter shot to death in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Yasser Salihee, an Iraqi special correspondent for Knight Ridder, was shot to death in Baghdad last Friday.

The shot appears to have been fired by a U.S. military sniper, though there were Iraqi soldiers in the area who also may have been shooting at the time.

Salihee, 30, had the day off and was driving alone near his home in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Amariyah when a single bullet pierced his windshield and then his skull.

He was shot as his car neared a joint patrol of American and Iraqi troops who'd stopped to search a building for snipers. American and Iraqi soldiers are frequently targeted by suicide car bombers.

The U.S. Army is investigating the incident.

U.S. Humvees blocked three of the entry points to the intersection that Salihee was approaching. The one he was driving toward was manned by Iraqi and American soldiers on foot. It's unclear how well he could have seen those troops, and whether they were standing in the road and waving motorists away, or taking cover by the side of the road in case of sniper attack.

Witnesses at the scene have offered conflicting accounts of what happened.

An early report said Salihee was shot by a passing U.S. convoy when he failed to heed hand signals or shouts from soldiers. That later turned out to be untrue.

Most of the witnesses told another Knight Ridder Iraqi special correspondent that no warning shots were fired. But the front right tire of Salihee's car, a white Daewoo Espero, was pierced by a bullet, presumably meant to stop him from advancing.

Iraqis in Baghdad often complain that U.S. and Iraqi soldiers set up positions in roadways without clearly marking them. Such roadblocks increase the likelihood that motorists won't have time to stop before soldiers, worried about suicide car bombers, open fire, many Iraqis say.

In May, Salihee wrote a story about the dangers of men driving alone in Iraq; such drivers are often suspected of being suicide bombers.

Knight Ridder didn't previously report on Salihee's death because his family was worried about reprisal from insurgents, who often target Iraqis working for Western organizations. The family's wish to have Salihee's story told now outweighs those concerns.

Salihee began working for Knight Ridder in early 2004. He said he left his position as a doctor at Baghdad's Yarmouk Hospital because of low salaries paid by the Iraqi government. He didn't lose his passion for helping others through medicine, though: He volunteered at medical clinics on his days off.

He reported and wrote frequently about the nation's political turmoil, with particular attention to the minority Sunni population and its lack of unity.

Knight Ridder Baghdad Bureau Chief Hannah Allam recently wrote of Salihee: "We weren't really looking for reporters at the time, but Yasser's impeccable English and sunny personality made him too hard to pass up. We hired him and took great delight in watching him blossom into one of our best reporters, the one who accompanied us to militant mosques and talked his way into insurgent-controlled Fallujah."

In the last story he worked on, Salihee used his medical expertise to review records of Sunnis brought to city morgues after reportedly being taken by men in police uniforms.

Salihee is survived by his wife, Raghad, also a physician, and their 2-year-old daughter, Danya.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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

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