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Iraq: U.S. Says It's Not Deterred By Violence

Washington, 31 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says the recent spate of violence by insurgents in Iraq will not deter it from its goal of handing over power to a democratic Iraqi government this summer.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan made the statement today hours after a jubilant mob in Al-Fallujah -- known for its support for deposed President Saddam Hussein -- dragged the bodies of four slain American civilian contractors through the town's streets.

At about the same time, in the same province west of Baghdad, five U.S. soldiers were killed by a bomb that exploded under their vehicle. And in Baquba, north of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded, killing the driver and wounding 14 Iraqis.

McClellan called the attacks "horrific" and clearly designed to prevent the United States from handing over sovereignty to the Iraqis on 30 June. But the White House spokesman said the U.S. administration is making progress in establishing democracy in the country, and will not be deterred by the continuing violence.

"We will not be intimidated. And the best way to honor those who have lost their lives is to continue to show resolve in the face of these cowardly, hateful acts designed to intimidate and [to] roll back the democratic progress and the freedom for the Iraqi people that we are achieving," he said.

In Berlin, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell blamed Hussein's supporters for the violence. He said they will be "dealt with" and "defeated." He added: "These former regime elements, these terrorists and others who are making trouble will be dealt with and will be defeated. We regret the loss of any life and I express my condolences to the families of those who lost their lives today, but those lives are lost in the cause of freedom, and the Iraqi people will be free. It will happen."

The grisliest of the attacks came in Al-Fallujah, about 55 kilometers west of Baghdad. The town is in the so-called Sunni Triangle, an area of central Iraq north and west of the capital where resistance to the U.S. occupation has been greatest.

Insurgents ambushed two vehicles carrying four American civilians working under contract with the U.S.-led coalition. A mob of Iraqis then set the vehicles on fire and used cars to drag the victims' bodies through the streets of Al-Fallujah.

Some Iraqis stomped and kicked at least one body, and another corpse was doused with petrol and set ablaze. Some body parts were strung up on telephone poles. Two badly burned bodies were hanged from a bridge over the Euphrates River. Beneath the suspended bodies was a sign reading, "Al-Fallujah Is the Cemetery for Americans."

The scene in Al-Fallujah recalls an incident in Somalia in 1993, when the body of a U.S. soldier was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, the capital of the East African nation. The United States had sent troops to help stabilize the country, which was torn by fighting among competing warlords.

There has been a recent increase of violence throughout Iraq, including the southern part of the country, which had been relatively quiet. But in Baghdad, U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the deputy operations chief for coalition forces in Iraq, said shortly after the attacks that the trouble is not indicative of the progress the coalition has made in the past year.

"Despite an uptick in localized engagements, the overall Iraqi area of operation remains relatively stable, with negligible impact the coalition's ability to continue progress in governance, economic development, and restoration of essential services," Kimmit said.

The latest violence brings to 597 the number of U.S. troops who have died in Iraq since the war began a year ago. Of those, 459 have died since U.S. President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat last 1 May.

At least 48 U.S. military personnel died in Iraq in March, making it the second- deadliest month for American troops since major combat ended. The deadliest month was November, in which 82 U.S. troops died.