Haraz Ghanbari  /  AP
A U.S. Marine Corps honor guard carries Cpl. Andrew D. Brownfield to his final resting place Monday at Holy Cross Cemetery in Akron, Ohio. Brownfield died March 18 in a mortar attack at an air base northwest of Baghdad.
updated 3/31/2004 12:14:16 PM ET 2004-03-31T17:14:16

The burst of violence in Iraq on Wednesday assured that March will be the second-deadliest month for U.S. troops since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1.

Five soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division were killed in a roadside bombing west of Baghdad, raising the month’s death toll to at least 48. The only month with more deaths was November, with 82.

The White House blamed terrorists and remnants of Saddam Hussein’s former regime for “horrific attacks” in the city of Fallujah on four U.S. contractors — at least one an American. Jubilant Iraqi residents dragged charred corpses through the streets and hanged them from a bridge.

“There are some that are doing everything they can to try to prevent” a June 30 transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

“There are terrorists, there are some remnants of the former regime that are enemies of freedom and enemies of democracy, but democracy is taking root and we are making important progress,” McClellan added. “We will not turn back from that effort.”

In Berlin, helping to raise assistance for rehabilitating Afghanistan, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the culprits “will be dealt with and they will be defeated.”

“The Iraqi people will be free. It will happen,” Powell said. “They will have a democracy, and the international community will make that come about.”

Constant pace
There had been high hopes that the capture of Saddam on Dec. 13 would steal momentum from the anti-occupation insurgency and improve security for Iraqis as well as American troops.

Instead the killing has continued at roughly a constant pace, and attacks against Iraqi civilians have increased.

The death toll for American troops fell in February to 21, but it was one of the deadliest months for Iraqi civilians. In January, 46 U.S. troops died and the toll in December was 40.

Slideshow: Year of conflict In all, at least 597 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began March 20, 2003. Of the total, 459 have died since May 1 when Bush flew onto an aircraft carrier off the California coast to declare the end of major combat.

Those totals do not include two American civilian employees of the Defense of the Army who were killed March 9.

The four civilian contract workers who were killed Wednesday were ambushed in their SUVs in Fallujah, a Sunni Triangle city about 35 miles west of Baghdad and scene of some of the worst violence on both sides of the conflict.

The abuse of their corpses after the killing was reminiscent of the 1993 scene in Somalia when a mob dragged the corpse of a U.S. soldier through the streets of Mogadishu, triggering U.S. public outrage that led eventually to an American withdrawal from the African nation.

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