FALLUJA, Iraq (Reuters) – A crowd of cheering Iraqis have dragged charred and mutilated bodies through the streets of the town of Falluja after an ambush on two vehicles that witnesses said killed at least four foreigners.
In a separate attack on Wednesday one year after the U.S.-led war on Iraq that overthrew Saddam Hussein, five American soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb was detonated beside their convoy west of Baghdad, the U.S. army said.
The Falluja violence began when two four-wheel-drive vehicles were attacked by guerrillas on a main road in the town, 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad. A crowd then set the vehicles ablaze and hurled stones into the burning wreckage.
Television pictures showed one incinerated body being kicked and stamped on by a member of the jubilant crowd, while others dragged a blackened body down the road by its feet.
The footage showed at least three people lying dead, while some witnesses said that four were killed. It was not clear how many people were in the vehicles.
As one body lay burning on the ground, an Iraqi came and doused it with petrol, sending flames soaring. At least two bodies were tied to cars and pulled through the streets, witnesses said.
“This is the fate of all Americans who come to Falluja,” said Mohammad Nafik, one of the crowd surrounding the bodies.
Some body parts were pulled off and left hanging from a pole, while two incinerated bodies were later strung from a bridge over the road and left dangling there.
It was unclear who was travelling in the vehicles, both four-wheel drives of the type used by foreign contractors, journalists, civilian members of the U.S.-led coalition and some military personnel. Witnesses said they saw anywhere between four and eight people in the cars before they were attacked.
Some of the victims were wearing civilian clothes, flak jackets and were armed, witnesses said, but that was not clear from the television footage. One of those killed had fair hair and was wearing khaki trousers and a white t-shirt.
As the victims lay burning, a crowd of around 150 men chanted “Long live Islam” and “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Greatest”) while flashing victory signs.
Falluja has been one of the most violent, restive towns in Iraq since the U.S.-led occupation began. There are almost daily attacks on U.S. military convoys in the area.
More than 400 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action since the start of the war, many of them in attacks using so-called improvised explosive devices in which an explosive charge is hidden in a plastic bag, soft drink can or dead animal and wired to a simple detonator.
As well as attacks on U.S. and coalition troops, there has been a sharp increase in insurgent strikes against foreigners in recent weeks.
In March alone, 12 foreign civilians have been killed in drive-by shootings or similar attacks. In the most recent incident, a Briton and a Canadian, both working as security guards, were shot and killed on Sunday in the city of Mosul.
Earlier in March, two Finns were killed in Baghdad, and four U.S. missionaries were shot dead in Mosul. In Hilla, south of Baghdad, two Americans working for the U.S. civilian authority were shot in a drive-by shooting.
With less than 100 days to go before U.S. authorities hand over sovereignty to an Iraqi government, the U.S. military, Iraqi police and other local security forces are still battling to bring security to the country.
Attacks occur almost every day with rockets, grenades, assault rifles, small arms or suicide bombs somewhere in Iraq.
On Wednesday, a car bomb blew up in Baquba, about 40 km (25 miles) north of Baghdad, wounding around a dozen people, while on Tuesday a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle outside the house of the chief of police in Hilla, but killed only himself.