FALLUJAH, Iraq – Defiant residents celebrated the murder and mutilation of four American contractors ambushed by insurgents a day earlier, and with bravado, one man said Thursday he wished Marines would enter the city for a showdown.
Hate toward Americans is widespread among Fallujah's (search) 500,000 people. Their relations with the occupiers began with two bloody incidents shortly after the city fell last April, when U.S. paratroopers shot and killed 18 demonstrators.
Hostilities continue almost a year later.
The mobs that dragged the burned corpses of four American contractors through the streets Wednesday consisted solely of males, including boys in their early teens, in civilian clothing and apparently unarmed. While the U.S. military suggested they were pro-Saddam Hussein (search) holdouts, some in the crowd appeared to be inspired by militant Islamic groups.
Resident Ahmed Ismael said, "Yesterday's killings were retaliation against the Americans' conduct in Fallujah."
Sheik Nawaf, who did not want to give his full name, said the act was un-Islamic "but those who did this were nothing more than children."
Saddam's name or that of his Baath Party (search) were not mentioned when frenzied mobs dragged the burned and mutilated bodies through the streets and later strung two of them up from a bridge after insurgents ambushed their vehicles.
But some in the mob carried pictures of Sheik Ahmed Yassin (search), the founder of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, who was assassinated last month in an Israeli rocket attack in Gaza City.
Policemen guarding the mayor's office about 300 yards from Wednesday's grotesque spectacle did not interfere. One said he was afraid, while another said simply: "Why should we intervene? It is none of our business."
Fallujah's police are intimidated by some residents, many of whom view them as traitors for being armed and trained by the Americans. On Feb. 14, Guerrillas overwhelmed a police station in Fallujah, going from room to room, killing 21 policemen and releasing scores of prisoners.
Although Fallujah residents benefited during the 23-year rule of Saddam, a Sunni like most of the city's residents, the ousted Iraqi leaders was not considered a devout Muslim because of the secularist policies he and his Baath Party pursued.
In contrast, most Fallujah residents are pious Muslims steeped in ancient traditions. Many residents adhere to the Wahhabi doctrine, an austere interpretation of Islamic tenets born more than 200 years ago in what is now Saudi Arabia.
On Thursday, about two dozen people marched in the streets chanting Islamic slogans such as "Yes, yes to Islam."
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy chief of U.S. military operations in Iraq, said the military would pursue those who were filmed or photographed while mutilating the bodies.
"We have a significant interest in finding them and talking to them," he said.
"We suspect that many of the people who were involved in the barbaric crimes yesterday were people from Iraq, people from Fallujah. Perhaps they may have belonged to Fedayeen Saddam, perhaps belonged to the Iraqi intelligence service, perhaps from the inner circle of Saddam's privileged few," he told a news briefing.
The Fedayeen was a prewar irregular Iraqi militia.
Residents also pledged to beat back American troops if they try to enter the city.
"We will not let any foreigner enter Fallujah," said resident Sameer Sami. "Yesterday's attack is proof of how much we hate the Americans."
Another resident, Ahmed al-Dulaimi said: "We wish that they would try to enter Fallujah so we'd let hell break lose."