| A policeman in Fallujah. (AFP)
Baghdad, April 2 (Reuters): The people who burned and kicked the corpses of four American contractors in the Iraqi town of Falluja this week were not armed insurgents or foreign fighters.
Children joined in as jubilant crowds played with the charred bodies, dragging them like trophies through the streets of a town overwhelmed by hatred for the occupying forces. Those who participated in the brutality may represent just a tiny minority of Iraqis, but across the country anti-American voices are getting louder and more insistent.
“There's an increasing feeling of anti-Americanism definitely,” said Paola Gasparoli of Occupation Watch, an independent organisation that monitors the occupation.
“It’s like all their hopes were destroyed. Families who had some hope the Americans would help Iraq now have sons who were killed or arrested, houses destroyed. This hope has died.”
The US authorities in Iraq cite polls showing that a vast majority of Iraqis are happy to have them in the country.
But one survey of 2,500 Iraqis released in March found that while they were happy to be rid of Saddam Hussein, 41 per cent said they were humiliated by the invasion, four in 10 had no confidence in occupation troops, and one in five believed attacks on foreign soldiers in Iraq were justified. A number of factors fuel the growing resentment.
A year since the invasion, there has been no let-up in violence, infrastructure is still poor, jobs scarce. There is often friction between civilians and occupying troops.
Raids across the country leave houses damaged and property broken. Iraqis complain that troops coming under attack are quick to fire in self defence, but fire randomly and without regard for civilians nearby.
In Tikrit last month, US soldiers killed a three-year-old boy when they fired on a car carrying four children and three women. The troops said the car jumped a checkpoint, the Iraqis said they never saw one.
Rights groups say that in the so-called battle for hearts and minds, the occupying forces are often their own worst enemy.
One tank rumbles through Baghdad with “Bloodlust” painted on its barrel. Another says “Kill them all”.
Frustration at the breakdown of order since Saddam’s fall on April 9, 2003, has been compounded by a perceived disregard for Iraqi lives.
“They come and destroy our houses, it’s the duty of all Muslims to fight them,” Ahmad Muhammad, a Falluja resident who watched the carnage on Wednesday said.
However, today in Falluja, a cleric denounced the mutilation of four US contractors killed after an ambush, and residents said American forces vowing a response should remember only a few people were responsible.
The US army promised an “overwhelming” response, saying Marines in charge of the area would pacify the town and hunt down those responsible.