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CAMP BOOM, Iraq (AP) -- Insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. military vehicle in the restive town of Fallujah, wounding an NBC News employee, the military said Monday. Three Iraqis were killed when their pickup truck slammed into a vehicle helping evacuate the wounded man.
The attack occurred on the second day of a sweep that has netted at least 60 suspects in 20 raids across central Iraq. The sweep, dubbed Operation Sidewinder, is designed to capture Saddam Hussein loyalists and curb a wave of attacks on American soldiers.
The grenade hit an Avenger air defense vehicle -- a Humvee equipped with a missile launcher -- injuring the NBC employee traveling in the vehicle but leaving the soldiers unscathed, U.S. Central Command said.
NBC News producer Carol Grisanti identified the injured employee as Australian Jeremy Little, a television sound man. He was evacuated to a combat support hospital and was in stable condition, the Centcom statement said.
The pickup crash immediately after the shooting appeared to be an accident, though U.S. military officials did not immediately rule out that it was an attack. As the reporter was being taken away, a white pickup truck came toward the Avenger and slammed into an armored personnel carrier there to help evacuate any casualties, Centcom said.
Two of the pickup truck's civilian occupants died immediately, the statement said. The other died later from his injuries.
An Associated Press photographer at a hospital in Fallujah spoke to a man, Zoheir Ali, who said his son-in-law was among the three killed.
He said his son-in-law, Qahtan Hashem, was driving two neighbors -- a son and his sick father -- to the hospital and was rushing to beat an 11 p.m. curfew. Ali said he believed Hashem did not intend to hit the vehicles.
Early Sunday, troops of the 4th Infantry Division and Task Force Ironhorse launched the military's latest in a series of major sweeps, carrying out raids across an area of central Iraq stretching from the Iranian border to the areas north of Baghdad.
The region has become "the nexus of paramilitary activity in central Iraq," the military said in a statement.
In one arrest, troops detained a colonel from Saddam's Baath Party along with five other people, the military said Monday, without providing details. The statement said at least 319 Iraqis have been detained in several operations, including Sidewinder, across Iraq since Sunday.
On Monday, planners of the 4th Infantry Division -- the most high-tech unit in the army -- used an array of electronic tools to plan out further raids. Lt. Col. Mark Young, commander of the division's 3-67th Armored Battalion, said the operation is working from a slew of recent intelligence.
"It causes all units to focus on a consolidated effort all at once," he said. "The effect is like a hammer being slammed against the bad guys."
The operation is expected to last for several days, according to military officials in Camp Boom, near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.
U.S. forces in central Iraq have been plagued by sneak attacks on their positions and patrols. At least 63 American soldiers have been killed in attacks and accidents in Iraq since major combat was declared over on May 1.
On Sunday night, less than 24 hours after Sidewinder's start, two M-1 tanks patrolling a section of Baqouba rife with hostile fire were attacked by rocket-propelled grenades. The near-impenetrable tanks were undamaged and the crews unhurt, but the patrol failed to find the attackers.
There were no reports of U.S. casualties during Sidewinder, the military said, nor was there any indication that the operation had netted any of Iraq's most wanted fugitives.
The military said the raids targeted loyalists from Saddam's former Baath Party, former military leaders and "terrorists" suspected in anti-U.S. attacks.
The American forces arrested a man in Khalis, 45 miles north of Baghdad, suspected of recruiting others to attack U.S. troops. In Dojima, a town where residents recently polished the still-standing portrait of Saddam, police raided the homes of alleged Saddam loyalists suspected of hiding caches of arms, including rocket-propelled grenades -- the weapon of choice in many recent ambushes.
The military also announced the arrest Saturday of 15 suspects in Mosul, in northern Iraq, confiscating Baath party documents and Republican Guard uniforms, as well as weapons.
U.S. officials in Washington have said repeatedly that Iraqi resistance to American rule is not centrally organized. But commanders on the ground painted a different picture.
Young called the resistance northeast of Baghdad "an organized effort." And Capt. John Wrann said: "It's got to be a coordinated thing." On Monday, the London-based human rights group Amnesty International said it had evidence that the U.S. military violated international law by subjecting prisoners to "cruel, inhuman or degrading" conditions at its Iraq detention centers.
The group said in a report that hundreds of Iraqis held at U.S.-run tent camps and former Iraqi government prisons have been denied the right to see families or lawyers or have a judge review their detention.
The report coincides with a United Nations conference on human rights that began Monday in Baghdad. The conference, which focuses on abuses during Saddam's rule, will coordinate investigations into the regime's alleged killings of some 300,000 Iraqis.
A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said military officials could not comment on the Amnesty report because they had not received it.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)