FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) — 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
yesterday 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
when a bomb exploded under their M-113 armored personnel carrier
north of Fallujah, 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.

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.

Residents in Fallujah said insurgents attacked the contractors
with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. After the
attack, a jubilant crowd of civilians, none of whom appeared to be
armed, gathered to celebrate, dragging the bodies through the
street and hanging two of them from the bridge. Many of those in
the crowd were excited young boys who shouted slogans in front of
television cameras.

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 the 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.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the contractors, all
men, “were trying to make a difference and to help
others.”

U.S. officials did not identify the dead or the nature of their
work because the next of kin had not yet been notified.

However, early evidence indicated they worked for Blackwater
Security Consulting, a company based in Moyock, N.C., the company
said in a statement.

The security firm hires former military members from the United
States and other countries to provide security training and guard
services. In Iraq, the company was hired by the Pentagon to provide
security for convoys that delivered food in the Fallujah area, the
company statement said.

The abuse and mutilation of the contractors’ 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.

Yesterday, 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.

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