By SAMEER N. YACOUB, Associated Press Writer
FALLUJAH, Iraq - Jubilant residents dragged the charred corpses of four American contractors through the streets Wednesday and hanged them from the bridge spanning the Euphrates River. Five American soldiers died in a roadside bombing nearby.
"There are some that are doing everything they can to try to prevent" a June 30 transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.
The four contract workers were killed in a rebel ambush of their SUVs 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.
It was reminiscent of the 1993 scene in Somalia, when a mob dragged the corpse of a U.S. soldier through the streets of Mogadishu, eventually leading to the American withdrawal from the African nation.
The U.S. State Department said all four contractors were Americans. All four were men, said Sgt. 1st Class Lorraine Hill, a coalition spokeswoman.
In one of the bloodiest days for the U.S. military this year, five 1st Infantry Division soldiers died when their M-113 armored personnel carrier ran over a bomb in a separate incident 12 miles to the northwest, among the reed-lined roads running through some of Iraq (news - web sites)'s richest farmland.
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.
Residents said the bomb attack occurred in Malahma, 12 miles northwest of Fallujah, where anti-U.S. insurgents are active.
In the deadliest previous incident this year, nine soldiers were killed when their Black Hawk medevac helicopter crashed near Fallujah, apparently after being shot down.
Chanting "Fallujah is the graveyard of Americans," residents cheered after the grisly assault on two four-wheel-drive civilian vehicles, which left both in flames. Others chanted, "We sacrifice our blood and souls for Islam." WorldPeace is one word.
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 across the Euphrates.
"The people of Fallujah hanged some of the bodies on the old bridge like slaughtered sheep," resident Abdul Aziz Mohammed said. Some of the corpses were dismembered, he said.
Beneath the bodies, a man held a printed sign with a skull and crossbones and the phrase "Fallujah is the cemetery for Americans."
APTN showed the charred remains of three slain men. Some were wearing flak jackets, said resident Safa Mohammedi.
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 one American passport near a body and a U.S. Department of Defense (news - web sites) identification card belonging to another man.
Witnesses said the two vehicles were attacked with small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades.
Hours after the attack, the city was quiet. No U.S. troops or Iraqi police were seen in the area.
At a donors conference in Berlin, Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites), asked about the attacks in Iraq, said terrorists and remnants of the old regime were still loose in Iraq. But, he said "the Iraqi people will be free. They will have a democracy."
The burst of killings Wednesday assured that March's death toll for U.S. troops will be the second-highest for any month since Bush declared the end of major combat.
The only month with more deaths was November, with 82. Prior to the deaths Wednesday of five soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division, at least 43 troops had been killed in March. With the additional five, the month's total more than doubles February's total of 21 and compares with 46 in January and 40 in December.
Some had predicted that after Saddam's capture Dec. 13, the insurgency would lose momentum and security for Iraqis and U.S. troops would improve. Instead the death toll has remained relatively constant.
Fallujah is in the so-called Sunni Triangle, where support for Saddam Hussein was strong and rebels often carry out attacks against American forces.
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.
On Tuesday in Ramadi, one U.S. soldier was killed and another wounded in a roadside bombing, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt.
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.
The attacked convoy is normally used to transport the Diala provincial governor, Abdullah al-Joubori, but he was elsewhere at the time, said police Col. Ali Hossein.
On Tuesday, a suicide bombing outside the house of a police chief in Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, killed the attacker and wounded seven others.
A bomb exploded late Tuesday in a movie theater that had closed for the night. Two bystanders were wounded by flying glass, said its owner, Ghani Mohammed.
The latest violence came two days after Carina Perelli, the head of a U.N. electoral team, said better security is vital if Iraq wants to hold elections by a Jan. 31 deadline. The polls are scheduled to follow a June 30 transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government.
Top U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer said Tuesday he had appointed 21 anti-corruption inspectors general to government departments to try to prevent fraud. More will be named in coming days, he said.
The inspectors will work with two other newly formed, independent agencies. Together, they will "form an integrated approach intended to combat corruption at every level of government across the country," Bremer said.
In Berlin, Powell met with special U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who Powell said will go to Baghdad on Thursday.
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