Bush stands firm on Iraq despite killings

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The Independent US

The Bush administration yesterday vowed to stay the course in Iraq despite the attacks in Fallujah that ended with jubilant Iraqis dragging the charred bodies of Americans through the streets.

The Bush administration yesterday vowed to stay the course in Iraq despite the attacks in Fallujah that ended with jubilant Iraqis dragging the charred bodies of Americans through the streets.

Until yesterday, Washington's explanation of the continuing violence in Iraq was straightforward: now that the military is making itself harder to hit, the insurgents are switching to "soft targets": Iraqis who co-operated with the occupiers, and foreign contractors and other civilian workers.

Yesterday's bloody events, however, comprehensively disproved that theory.

Five US soldiers were killed when their M-113 armoured personnel carrier ran over a bomb in the countryside close to the city of Fallujah. Meanwhile, US cable channels showed heavily edited images of the burning shells of two sports utility vehicles in Fallujah itself, in which four foreign contractors, at least three of them Americans and another a woman, were ambushed, according to the US. What was not shown was footage of charred corpses being mutilated, dragged through the streets and hanged from a bridge in front of a crowd of Iraqis.

The scenes echoed those of Mogadishu in 1993, when a mob killed US soldiers and hauled their bodies through the streets - so dismaying and unnerving the public here that the new Clinton administration shortly afterwards withdrew US peacekeeping forces from Somalia.

Given President George Bush's repeated insistence that the US will not pull out of Iraq until security and order are established, and his determination to show he is tougher than his predecessor, no such action is likely now.

"We will not turn back from our effort," Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, told reporters, blaming the atrocity on supporters of Saddam Hussein and others who were "doing everything they can" to try to prevent the transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government, scheduled for 30 June.

"There are terrorists, there are some remnants of the former regime that are enemies of freedom and enemies of demo-cracy, but democracy is taking root," Mr McClellan said. "We are making progress."

Nonetheless, the gruesome photos from Fallujah circulating on the internet yesterday were proof that Iraq remains a dangerous place where foreign soldiers and contractors alike venture at their peril - exactly the message, of course, that the insurgents intended to send.

The deaths of the five soldiers are a separate reminder that US forces in Iraq are suffering losses almost daily.

In the 335 days since President Bush proclaimed an end to "major combat operations" on 1 May 2003, 461 US servicemen have died, almost four times as many as during the six week-long war proper, and at least 3,000 have been wounded. So commonplace have the ambushes and attacks become that they rarely make news-paper front pages or the nightly news bulletins.

But even on its own, the killing of the five soldiers from the First Infantry Division near Fallujah would have made yesterday one of the bloodiest days yet for the US military, with a death toll exceeded only when troop helicopters have been shot down or crashed.

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