FALLUJAH, Iraq – As U.S. troops remain outside of Fallujah (search) awaiting orders for an "overwhelming" response to the gruesome attacks this week, a senior Islamic cleric urged preachers on Friday to condemn the mutilation of four slain American contractors, but he did not say if those prayers should condemn the act of killing as well.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, promised to hunt down those responsible but said clashes could be avoided if city officials act promptly against the insurgents. No U.S. forces were seen in the city, 35 miles west of Baghdad (search).
Senior Fallujah cleric Sheik Khalid Ahmed (search) said Muslim preachers would tell their followers that the mutilation of the bodies was wrong.
He did not say whether they would condemn the killings of the Americans, whose charred remains were dragged through the streets for hours after insurgents ambushed their SUVs on Wednesday.
"Prophet Muhammad prohibited even the mutilation of a dead mad dog and he considered such a thing as religiously forbidden. What happened in Fallujah is a distortion of Islamic principles and it is forbidden in Islam. We condemn such acts and all Fallujah clerics will do so during the Friday prayers," he told The Associated Press.
Gen. John Abizaid (search), the leader of U.S. Central Command who oversees the U.S. forces in Iraq, also had a series of closed-door meetings with Pentagon officials Thursday afternoon, Fox News has learned.
When asked if Fallujah was among the items discussed, one senior official said: "You wouldn't be wrong in your thinking that Fallujah may have been on the agenda."
Another senior official insisted that the Pentagon would not be getting involved in the planning for a military response to the vigorous insurgency in Fallujah, saying quite forcefully that the Combined Joint Task Force and Marine commanders stationed outside the city would be the ones making the decisions.
"The only guidance they would get from us is 'you have to be aggressive in pursuing this kind of violence,'" the official said.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt (search) pledged to hunt down those who carried out Wednesday's killings — but he added that clashes could be avoided if Fallujah city officials arrest those responsible for the murders.
"Is there going to be a fight? ... You should ask the insurgents. ... You should ask the governors and the mayor inside Fallujah. If they were to deliver these people to the criminal justice system, we will come back in and start the rebuilding of Fallujah. That is their choice," he said.
A Fallujah city council member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the council met late Thursday and issued a statement "condemning the mutilation of the bodies in the streets because it contradicts the teachings of Islam and it is unacceptable in the religious point of view." He did not say whether a decision was made to take action against those responsible for the killings.
The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council also issued a statement condemning "the cold blooded slaughter and mutilation of civilians" and vowed that "those murderers who carried out these terrorist acts will not hinder or disrupt the march of our people toward the dawn of freedom and democracy."
Police on Friday were manning regular roadside checkpoints and there was no sign of U.S. troops in or around the city. American commanders have said they would act "at the time and place of our choosing."
Violence continued elsewhere in the country, nearly a year after the ouster of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
In the city of Baqouba, 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, gunmen fired on two police cars late Thursday, killing three officers and wounding two, said Loua'ie Adel, an official at Baqouba General Hospital.
U.S. commanders have defended their decision not to send forces into Fallujah on Wednesday to retrieve the remains of the victims. Two of the corpses were hung from a bridge as people beat them with shoes and a pole. Iraqi police eventually collected the remains of the four at the request of American troops.
Kimmitt said U.S. forces didn't respond for fear of ambushes and the possibility that insurgents would use civilians as human shields. "A pre-emptive attack into the city could have taken a bad situation and made it even worse," he said.
"We are not going to do a pell-mell rush into the city. It will be deliberate, it will be precise and it will be overwhelming. ... We will plan our way through this and we will re-establish control of that city. ... It will be at the time and place of our choosing," he said.
Fallujah residents said Thursday they were ready to take on the Americans if they try to enter the city.
"We wish that they would try to enter Fallujah so we'd let hell break loose," Ahmed al-Dulaimi said. "We will not let any foreigner enter Fallujah," said Sameer Sami. "Yesterday's attack is proof of how much we hate the Americans."
Fallujah has been the scene of some of the worst violence since the beginning of the U.S.-led occupation a year ago. The city was a stronghold of support for Saddam. Militant forces appear to enjoy the support — or at least acquiescence — of a significant part of the population.
A U.S. counterterrorism official said the attacks have stepped up in Iraq over the last few weeks and have reflected more sophistication and planning.
The official said it was unclear who is responsible, though Baath party remnants, Iraqi intelligence figures, associates of Al Qaeda-linked Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or Sunni extremists are among the possibilities.
Last month, U.S. Marines took over authority of Fallujah and surrounding areas from the 82nd Airborne Division and conducted patrols that led to fierce firefights in the city.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.