WASHINGTON (AP) _ Michael Kelly, editor-at-large for The Atlantic Monthly, was killed while covering the war in Iraq, the first American journalist to die in the conflict.

Kelly, 46, a columnist for The Washington Post and a former editor of The New Republic, died Thursday night along with a U.S. soldier when their Humvee went into a canal. Kelly was traveling with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division as one of 600 journalists embedded with U.S. forces.

Four foreign journalists have died covering the conflict.

Last month, Kelly, who also covered the first Gulf War, told ABC News that he did not consider his Iraq assignment overly dangerous.

``There is some element of danger, but you're surrounded by an Army, literally, who is going to try very hard to keep you out of danger,'' he said.

Condolences came Friday from government officials and Kelly's colleagues.

President Bush ``expresses his sorrow and his condolences to the Kelly family,'' White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.

Atlantic Monthly owner David Bradley said the magazine ``has had 145 years of good times and bad, but no moment more deeply sad than this one now.''

``Michael Kelly will be remembered as a gifted wordsmith, someone whose creativity and pure skill was obvious in every column,'' said Alan Shearer, editorial director of the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicated Kelly's column.

Kelly's final column for the Post was published Thursday. In it, he wrote about accompanying an Army task force as it captured a bridge across the Euphrates River.

``On the western side of the bridge, Lt. Col. Ernest `Rock' Marcone, commander of Task Force 3-69, stood in the sand by the side of the road, smoking a cigar and drinking a cup of coffee,'' Kelly wrote. ``Marcone's soldiers say he deeply likes to win, and he seemed quietly happy.''

A native of Washington, Kelly was the son of two journalists _ Thomas Kelly, a former reporter, and Marguerite Kelly, who writes the syndicated column, ``Family Almanac.''

Kelly was fired as editor of The New Republic, a weekly political journal, in 1997 by owner Martin Peretz, a friend and former teacher of then-Vice President Al Gore. Peretz objected to what he felt was the magazine's constant criticism of the Clinton administration.

Kelly became a columnist for the Post and also was hired as the editor of National Journal, a weekly magazine that covers the federal government. When the magazine's owner, Bradley, bought The Atlantic Monthly in 1999, he named Kelly editor.

Last September, Kelly stepped down from that post and became editor-at-large. He was also chief editorial adviser at National Journal.

Before taking the helm of The New Republic, Kelly was a reporter for The New York Times and a writer and editor at The New Yorker.

He covered the first Gulf War, and the Iraq-Kurdish conflict that followed it. He later wrote a book based on his reporting, ``Martyr's Day.''

Kelly is survived by his wife, Madelyn, and two sons, Tom, 6, and Jack, 3.

___

On the Net:

Recent Michael Kelly columns:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/opinion/columns/kellymichael

The Atlantic Monthly: http://www.theatlantic.com

Washington Post Writers Group: http://www.postwritersgroup.com