Iraqi Mob Mutilates 4 American Civilians


Four American civilians under contract to the Pentagon were killed Wednesday by guerrillas in the flash point Iraqi city of Fallujah, and their bodies were mutilated by a mob whose celebration brought to mind the shocking U.S. losses in Somalia a decade ago.

In actions that the White House later described as "despicable," a corpse was carted through town as people slashed it with knives, beat it with sticks and jabbed it with poles. A burning body was doused with gasoline to raise the flames. Two charred bodies were hanged from a bridge over the Euphrates River.

Not far from Fallujah, five U.S. soldiers also died Wednesday. A bomb exploded under their armored vehicle, ripping a giant crater in the ground.

With a June 30 deadline looming for the U.S.-led occupation to hand over power to the Iraqi people, Wednesday's brutality demonstrated the lawlessness in parts of Iraq. More than six hours after the Americans were killed in Fallujah, no U.S. soldiers or Iraqi police had arrived to restore order and retrieve the bodies, according to witnesses interviewed on television.

The U.S. military reported it was sending soldiers to recover the remains but did not explain the delay.

While a man in the mob called the attack "the fate of all Americans who come to Fallujah," U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said it was a sign of the desperation of those who oppose U.S. plans for Iraq.

Occupation forces, which saw a drop in fatal attacks in the first two months of the year, are under frequent fire again: The U.S. military death toll in March was the highest since November. Iraqi police and politicians are shot at or bombed daily. And foreign civilians have become attractive, available targets.

The four Americans who died in Fallujah worked for Blackwater Security Consulting, according to a statement by the Moyock, N.C.-based company. Blackwater has a contract with the Pentagon to provide security for food convoys in the Fallujah area.

A senior military officer told The New York Times the four were all retired Special Operations soldiers--three Navy SEALs and one Army Ranger.

The four, who were not identified, were armed and wearing flak jackets, witnesses told The Associated Press. But they could not repel the ambush by guerrillas who attacked their sport-utility vehicles with small-arms fire.

The vehicles were set ablaze, and residents gathered to celebrate. Many in the crowd were boys who shouted slogans in front of television cameras.

"I am happy to see this," 12-year-old Mohammed told Reuters. "The Americans are occupying us, so this is what will happen."

As the victims burned, a crowd of about 150 men chanted "Long live Islam" and "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great") while flashing victory signs. Others chanted, "Fallujah is the graveyard of Americans."

In video played on Arab television, a man kicked a burned body and stomped on its head. At least two bodies were tied to cars and pulled through the streets, witnesses said.

Kimmitt said it was too soon to judge why Iraqi security forces did not enter Fallujah to confront the mob. He said authorities were still trying to piece together the events.

After initially showing coverage of the event and apologizing for its disturbing nature, Arab TV network Al Arabiya blurred the bodies in some of the most gruesome footage. In Europe, some news stations took similar steps to obscure the grisly sections of the tape. Others showed the footage without distortion. The most graphic images were largely avoided by American television.

The scene was reminiscent of the 1993 street battle in Mogadishu, Somalia, in which a crowd dragged the corpse of a U.S. soldier through the streets. The incident, depicted in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down," contributed to the Clinton administration's decision to pull troops out.

The U.S. vowed Wednesday it would not be deterred in Iraq.

Fallujah, a city of 100,000 people about 35 miles west of Baghdad, was a Saddam Hussein stronghold and quickly became a focal point of armed opposition to the U.S. The area is in the Sunni Triangle--an area roughly between Baghdad, Ramadi and Tikrit--that has fiercely resisted U.S. control. At least 17 U.S. troops were killed in the area in March.

Shortly after Baghdad fell last April, a protest in Fallujah turned ugly, and U.S. soldiers shot to death 13 people. U.S. troops said they were fired on from inside the crowd, but the Fallujah demonstrators considered it a crime. The hostility has grown.

The White House blamed terrorists and remnants of Hussein's former government for the violence.

"It is offensive, it is despicable the way these individuals have been treated," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. The roadside bomb that killed the five U.S. soldiers Wednesday was in Malahma, 12 miles northwest of Fallujah, in an area where insurgents have been 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. In November, 82 U.S. troops were killed.



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