| Iraqis drag a charred body down a Falluja street. (Reuters)
Falluja, March 31 (Reuters): A vengeful crowd of cheering Iraqis dragged the burnt and mutilated bodies of four contractors — three of them American — through the streets of Falluja today after killing them in a vehicle ambush.
In a separate attack five American soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb was detonated beside their armoured vehicle convoy west of Baghdad, the US army said.
The contractors, working for the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority that has run Iraq since last year’s U.S.-led invasion to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, were attacked by guerrillas on a main road in Falluja. A crowd set the vehicles ablaze and dragged the bodies through the streets of the town 50 km west of Baghdad, witnesses said.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the US army in Iraq, said all four contractors in the vehicles were killed.
A state department official in Washington said three of the four were US citizens but gave no further details.
“These are horrific attacks by people who are trying to prevent democracy from moving forward, but democracy is taking root,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. He said the US was holding fast to a June 30 deadline for handing over power in Iraq to a transitional Iraqi government.
Television pictures from Falluja showed one incinerated body being kicked and its head being stamped on by a member of the jubilant crowd, while others dragged a charred and blackened body by its feet.
As one corpse lay burning on the ground, an Iraqi came and doused it with petrol, sending flames soaring into the air. At least two bodies, their skin burnt away, were tied to cars and pulled through the streets, witnesses said.
“This is the fate of all Americans who come to Falluja,” said Mohammad Nafik, one of the crowd surrounding the bodies.
Some body parts were pulled off and left hanging from a telephone cable, while two incinerated bodies were later strung from a bridge and left dangling there.
A young boy beat one of the incinerated bodies after it was pulled down with his shoe as a crowd cheered. “I am happy to see this. The Americans are occupying us so this is what will happen,” said Mohammad, 12, looking on. As the victims lay burning, a crowd of around 150 men chanted “Long live Islam” and “Allah--Akbar” (God is Greatest) while flashing victory signs for the television cameras.
No US soldiers or Iraqi police were seen in the area for several hours after the attack, but an American fighter plane roared overhead, prompting the crowd to scatter.
Falluja has been one of the most violent, restive towns in Iraq since the US-led occupation began. There are almost daily strikes against American military convoys in the area.
More than 400 US soldiers have been killed in action since the start of the war, many of them in attacks using improvised explosive devices. As well as attacks on US and coalition troops, there has been a sharp increase in insurgent strikes against foreign civilians.
In March alone, 12 foreign civilians have been killed in drive-by shootings or similar attacks. With less than 100 days to go before US authorities hand over sovereignty to an Iraqi government, the US military, Iraqi police and other local security forces are still battling to bring security to the country.
Today’s scenes were reminiscent of an October 1993 incident in Somalia when 18 US army Rangers and one Malaysian were killed in the downing by Somali militias of two US helicopters. Mobs dragged the corpses of Americans through the streets of Mogadishu.
US to stay the course
The White House vowed anew to stay the course in Iraq today in the face of an upsurge in violence against US soldiers and foreign contractors.
“These are horrific attacks by people who are trying to prevent democracy from moving forward, but democracy is taking root,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
He said the US was holding fast to a June 30 deadline for handing over power in Iraq to a transitional Iraqi government.
“We mourn the loss of life and there is an important effort that is well under way in Iraq to provide the Iraqi people freedom and democracy and we will not turn back from that effort,” he said.