SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq -- The quarrel at a Christian school was at first easily ignored by other students: a disagreement between a classmate and a teacher that could barely be heard. But it quickly escalated into gunfire yesterday in a murder-suicide marking the rare violent death of an American in Iraq's most peaceful region.

Authorities in this Kurdish city said Biyar Sarwar, 18, shot his gym teacher, Jeremiah Small, before turning the gun on himself at a private English-speaking school during a morning sports lecture. Sarwar died later at a nearby hospital.

The State Department confirmed the identity of the teacher.

Small, 33, was from Cosmopolis, Wash., near the coast. His father, J. Dan Small, wrote on his Facebook page: "Our oldest, Jeremiah, was martyred in Kurdistan this a.m."

Sulaimaniyah police spokesman Sarkawit Mohammed, said the shooting appeared to be a murder-suicide, but he provided no motive. He said Sarwar hid the gun in his clothes before the lecture at the Medes School, a private Christian academy of elementary through secondary grade classes.

The Medes program runs three schools in the provinces that make up Iraq's northern Kurdish region, boasting an enrollment of about 2,000 students. According to the schools' website, American staff often teach one or two courses each semester. An estimated 95 percent of the students are from Kurdish Muslim families.

Students described Small as a devout Christian who frequently praised Christianity and prayed in the classroom. Sulaimaniyah Mayor Zana Hama Saleh said, however, that Small was not a missionary and cast doubt that the killing was motivated by sectarian issues because Sarwar "had no radical religious tendencies . . . maybe the student had mental problems."

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