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American dead butchered ' like sheep'

Jubilant crowds dragged the burnt and mutilated bodies of four Americans through the streets of Fallujah yesterday amid some of the most horrific scenes witnessed since the invasion of Iraq.

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                                                Falluga Video 04//01/04

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The four were driving along the main road when they were caught in a vicious crossfire from Iraqis wearing headscarves. The spot is a favourite site for attacks in the pro-Saddam Hussein town.

What followed was reminiscent of the conflict in Somalia in 1993 when dead American military personnel were hauled through the streets of the capital Mogadishu.

Those attacks were said to have precipitated a withdrawal and sending America into a long period of isolationism.

Yesterday, the corpses were dismembered before parts were hung from a green iron bridge over the Euphrates river, witnesses said. Other remains were hung from an electricity pole. People chanted: "We sacrifice our blood and souls for Islam."

One resident, Abdul Aziz Mohammed, said: "The people of Fallujah hanged some of the bodies on the old bridge like slaughtered sheep."

Beneath the bodies, a man held a printed sign with a skull and crossbones and the phrase: "Fallujah is the cemetery for Americans."

Last night, a White House statement vowed that America would stand firm. "These are horrific attacks by people who are trying to prevent democracy from moving forward, but democracy is taking root," it said.

"There is an important effort that is well under way in Iraq to provide the Iraqi people freedom and democracy and we will not turn back from that effort."

In another attack, five American soldiers died in a roadside bombing nearby. The attacks were given prominent coverage on United States television channels, but the pictures were edited to exclude the most gory scenes.

Reporters at the scene, mainly Iraqis working for Reuters Television, Associated Press Television News and a photographer from Agence France-Presse, were able to remain for a few minutes, but then came under attack themselves and left.

The US military said the victims were coalition civilian contractors on a routine mission to the town.

Local people said they were carrying weapons and wearing camouflage clothing and flak jackets. One resident displayed what appeared to be dog tags taken from a body. A coalition spokesman said: "They appear to have been ordinary folk caught at the wrong time in one of the most dangerous places in Iraq.

"The situation in Fallujah has meant it has not received the same level of reconstruction aid as other bits of Iraq. There's a lot of work for contractors to do there." The four victims were in two four-wheel-drive vehicles. After the initial attack a crowd gathered, set the vehicles ablaze and threw stones at the burning wreckage.

"I saw the people pull one of the dead bodies out of the car and pour [fuel oil] over it. Then they set the body ablaze," said Omar Khalil, an off-duty Iraqi police officer. "The people were praising God for their good fortune in killing Americans." The body was then dragged down the road by the feet.

Another corpse was kicked and punched by an Iraqi who shouted: "The Americans killed my brother."

The man then began dismembering the corpse with a shovel and body parts were strung by a wire from a telephone cable. At least two bodies were tied to cars and pulled through the streets, witnesses said.

"This is what will happen to every American invader who comes to Fallujah," said a member of the crowd.

Neither American soldiers nor Iraqi police were seen in the area after the attack, although an American aircraft flew low over the scene, scattering the crowd.

Hours after the attack hundreds still danced around the burning wreck of a Mitsubishi Pajero and Toyota Landcruiser chanting: "Death, death to the Americans." Some were said to be preparing an ambush for American forces if they returned to recover the corpses.

Fallujah has been one of the most violent, restive towns in Iraq since the US-led occupation began.

It is an extremely pro-Saddam town in a staunchly pro-Saddam area known as the Sunni Triangle. Residents are famously religious, with women rarely seen in public. Even the kebab shops have prayer rooms.

US military commanders say the insurgents and their supporters in the town of 500,000 citizens are a minority and most people are tired of the violence. But there are almost daily attacks on US military convoys in the area and American forces rarely enter the town.

Yesterday's violence appears to have been precipitated when house-to-house searches were resumed last week by US marines.

Five Iraqis were killed and several marines were wounded in the fighting and Fallujah was sealed off for four days. American forces withdrew to their bases only late on Tuesday night.

Marine Lt Eric Thorliefson, guarding the outskirts of Fallujah, said: "The people who did this heinous crime were looking for revenge. We shall respond with force."

Meanwhile, three British soldiers were injured, one seriously, in southern Iraq yesterday when their vehicle hit an explosive device on a road southwest of Basra.

Text provided by The Telegraph. UK. Video by AP.

2004 AP & The Telegraph. UK

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