Updated: 04:15 PM EST
Nine Die in Day of Violence in Iraq
Iraqis Mutilate Bodies of Four U.S. Contractors; Five GIs Killed
By SAMEER N. YACOUB, AP
FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 31) - In a scene reminiscent of Somalia, frenzied crowds dragged the burned, mutilated bodies of four American contractors through the streets of a town west of Baghdad on Wednesday and strung two of them up from a bridge after rebels ambushed their SUVs.
Five U.S. soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division also were killed in the same area when a bomb exploded under their M-113 armored personnel carrier, making it the bloodiest day for Americans in Iraq since Jan. 8.
The four contract workers were killed in Fallujah, a Sunni Triangle city about 35 miles west of Baghdad and scene of some of the worst violence on both sides of the conflict since the beginning of the American occupation a year ago.
An Iraqi boy holds a sign that reads, "Fallujah is the cemetery of the Americans."
Chanting ''Fallujah is the graveyard of Americans,'' residents cheered after the grisly assault on two four-wheel-drive civilian vehicles left both SUVs in flames.
Associated Press Television News pictures showed one man beating a charred corpse with a metal pole. Others tied a yellow rope to a body, hooked it to a car and dragged it down the main street of town. Two blackened and mangled corpses were hung from a green, iron bridge spanning the Euphrates River.
''The people of Fallujah hung some of the bodies on the old bridge like slaughtered sheep,'' resident Abdul Aziz Mohammed said. Some corpses were dismembered, he said.
The White House blamed terrorists and remnants of Saddam Hussein's former regime for the ''horrific attacks'' on the American contractors.
''It is offensive, it is despicable the way these individuals have been treated,'' White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
Referring to the planned June 30 transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis, McClellan said ''the best way to honor those that lost their lives'' is to continue with efforts to bring democracy to Iraq.
''There are terrorists, there are some remnants of the former regime that are enemies of freedom and enemies of democracy, but democracy is taking root and we are making important progress,'' McClellan added. ''We will not turn back from that effort.''
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the contractors, all men, ''were trying to make a difference and to help others.'' He did not identify the dead or the nature of their work because the next of kin had not yet been notified.
The abuse and mutilation of the corpses was similar to the scene more than a decade ago in Somalia, when a mob dragged corpses of U.S. soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu, eventually leading to the American withdrawal from the African nation.
On Wednesday, a man held a printed sign with a skull and crossbones and the phrase ''Fallujah is the cemetery for Americans'' beneath the blackened corpses after they were pulled from the vehicles.
One body was tied to a car that had a poster in its window of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder of the Palestinian militant group Hamas who was assassinated by the Israeli military in Gaza City.
One resident displayed what appeared to be dog tags taken from one body. Residents also said there were weapons in the targeted cars. APTN showed an American passport near a body and a U.S. Department of Defense identification card belonging to another man.
Some of the slain contractors were wearing flak jackets, resident Safa Mohammedi said.
In Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said the coalition would not be deterred from its mission to rebuild Iraq, and that numerous reconstruction projects were moving forward nationwide even though attention was focused on the attacks.
The roadside bomb that killed the five American soldiers Wednesday was in Malahma, 12 miles northwest of Fallujah, where anti-U.S. insurgents are active.
Their deaths raised the number of U.S. troops killed in March to at least 48, making it the second-deadliest month for U.S. troops since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1. The deadliest month was November, when 82 U.S. troops were killed.
In all, at least 597 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began March 20, 2003. Of the total, 459 have died since May 1 when Bush flew onto an aircraft carrier off the California coast to declare the end of major combat.
In the deadliest previous incident this year, nine soldiers were killed Jan. 8 when their Black Hawk medevac helicopter crashed near Fallujah, apparently after being shot down.
Fallujah is in the so-called Sunni Triangle, where support for Saddam was strong and rebels often carry out attacks against American forces. U.S. Marines recently took over authority in the region from the departing U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division.
In an effort to forcefully establish their presence, the newly arrived Marines have conducted numerous patrols in Fallujah and have engaged in fierce firefights with rebels. In recent months, U.S. soldiers were not seen as often in the center of town.
The Marines have said they will aggressively pursue guerrillas in Fallujah. However, no U.S. troops or Iraqi police were seen in the area after the attacks Wednesday, and the city was quiet.
In nearby Ramadi, insurgents threw a grenade at a government building and Iraqi security forces returned fire Wednesday, witnesses said. It was not clear if there were casualties.
Also in Ramadi, a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. convoy, witnesses said. U.S. officials in Baghdad could not confirm the attack.
Northeast of Baghdad, in the city of Baqouba on Wednesday, a suicide bomber blew up explosives in his car when he was near a convoy of government vehicles, wounding 14 Iraqis and killing himself, officials said.
03-31-04 15:54 EST