Baghdad -- For the occupants of the two
gleaming sport utility vehicles cruising down the
debris-strewn dual highway that passes for Fallujah's main
drag, it would have seemed like just another trip through
Like any foreign contractors working in Iraq's trouble
spots, they would adhere to the usual rules: keep your
bulletproof vest on tight, the machine guns and side-arms
ready, and think very carefully before pulling over -- even if
you've just knocked a child off his bike.
Exactly how the convoy from Blackwater Security Consulting
was stopped probably will never be clear. Some reports
suggested it had made the fatal mistake of hitting the brakes
when armed men blocked the path, rather than flooring the
accelerator in the hope of barging through. Others suggested
the occupants already had been dead from gunshots before their
cars even ground to a halt.
Given what happened next, their grieving families probably
hope profoundly that it was the latter. In an act of savagery
shocking even by the blood-soaked standards of Iraq's worst
trouble spot, the bodies of the three men and one woman inside
the vehicles were beaten, burned, hacked at and then dragged
through the streets of Fallujah.
In what turned into a macabre and murderous town fete,
locals cheered as one corpse was attached to a car tow rope
and pulled triumphantly up and down the main road, in full
view of a camera crew.
But there was worse to come: as a crowning glory for the
insurgent gunmen, the remains of two charred and mangled
corpses were hung from a green iron bridge across the
"The people of Fallujah hanged some of the bodies on the
old bridge like slaughtered sheep," resident Abdul Aziz
Mohammed said gleefully.
As if to underline the lack of a dignified final resting
place, a man standing near the corpses held up a printed sign
with a skull and crossbones. "Fallujah is the cemetery for
Americans," it read.
In terms of its sheer bestial violence, the attack on the
Blackwater operatives was unprecedented, even for Fallujah,
and it reinforced the town's hard-won reputation as a place
with an unquenchable hatred for U.S. forces and those who work
The Sunni Muslim stronghold's virulent opposition to the
coalition that ousted Saddam Hussein began almost a year ago,
when U.S. forces unleashed a Pandora's box of anti-American
hatred after shooting dead nearly 20 civilians when a protest
outside a school turned violent.
Since then, no amount of carrot-or-stick polices by the
U.S. Army has been able to tame the town. Deployment of
combat-hardened heavy armor divisions, the "softly, softly
approach'' by civil affairs units, "blood money" payments to
the families of dead civilians -- all have been tried, and
none has had any effect.
At a press conference in Baghdad on Wednesday night,
coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt seemed close to
"Fallujah remains one of the cities in Iraq that just
doesn't get it," he said. . "It is a former Baathist
stronghold which profited immensely under Saddam's regime, and
a small minority of the people there just don't want it to
become part of the new Iraq."
Kimmitt, not a man noted for displays of sentimentality
during his daily briefings, added: "Somewhere out in this
world there are going to be families who are getting knocks on
the door from people, telling them what happened to their
loved ones. It is not pleasant to be on either side of that
door, I can tell you."
Details about the victims of Wednesday's atrocity remained
unclear Wednesday night, as did the purpose of their ill-fated
drive through Fallujah.
Blackwater, a specialist private security firm based in
Moyock, N.C., hires former U.S. special forces soldiers to
protect private contractors. The company also has a contract
to provide the roving armed security teams for current top
U.S. official Paul Bremer - the No. 1 target on any Iraqi
insurgents' hit list.
Wednesday's disaster was not the first to befall private
security teams working in Iraq. Despite boasting high levels
of training and expertise, their relative lack of backup can
make them an easy target for insurgents.
With their main concern being protecting their clients --
or "principal" -- they are more likely to take evasive action
than use their considerable military skills to fight back.
Last Sunday, a British security guard escorting several
foreign engineers was killed in northern Iraq after his
two-car convoy was hit in a drive-by machine gun attack. He is
understood to have been working for Olive Security, a private
military company run by former British Army officer Harry
Olive, which has had up to 300 staff members working in
Iraq at times, was one of the first security companies into
Iraq and won a contract to guard civilian contractors working
for Bechtel Corp., one of the main U.S. companies rebuilding
The increased risks for business travelers willing to visit
Iraq have escalated security costs in recent months. Most
firms looking after them now insist that they travel at all
times in a $750-a-day armored car, with a nonarmored vehicle
escorting them as backup. A security guard armed with machine
gun and side arm normally travels in each one.
Many private security operatives, however, are becoming
increasingly concerned at the undifferentiating nature of the
"In the last few weeks there have been Christian
missionaries killed, and two Finnish and two German
businessmen," said one security source.
"It appears to be just random killings of any Westerner,
which is a lot harder to plan for than specific targeting. It
is like the Washington sniper approach -- no rhyme or reason
to it whatsoever -- and that is what has put the fear of God
into everybody working here."
Chronicle news services contributed to this story.