updated 4/2/2004 7:55:50 PM ET 2004-04-03T00:55:50

Muslim clerics Friday condemned the mutilation of the bodies of four U.S. civilians, but not their slayings, and the military announced the combat deaths of two more Americans.

There was no sign of any U.S. military activity in the Fallujah area to suggest that retaliatory action was imminent; L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, has said those who killed the four civilians and burned their bodies “will not go unpunished.”

In Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier and wounded another Friday, the military said. A U.S. Marine also died as a result of hostile action a day earlier in Anbar province, of which Fallujah is the most populous city.

Three people were killed Friday outside the northern city of Kirkuk when a bomb they were planting exploded prematurely, police said. The target was the town hall in Riyadh, 16 miles west of Kirkuk.

In Fallujah, Sheik Fawzi Nameq addressed 600 worshippers at a mosque opposite the mayor’s office, not far from the scene of Wednesday’s deadly ambush of the U.S. civilians.

“Islam does not condone the mutilation of the bodies of the dead,” the cleric said.

“Why do you want to bring destruction to our city? Why do you want to bring humiliation to the faithful? My brothers, wisdom is required here,” said Nameq, who did not pass a judgment on the killings.

His sermon conformed with a directive issued by senior Fallujah clerics asking mosque imams to denounce the mutilation.

U.S. wants stronger response
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy chief of U.S. military operations in Iraq, said condemning the mutilations but not the killings was not enough.

“While the condemnation of the mutilation was helpful, that is only a partial answer,” Kimmitt said in an e-mail message to The Associated Press. “Murder of innocents should be condemned.”

Video: 4 killed in Fallujah remembered

Kimmitt has pledged to hunt down those who carried out the killings, but he said clashes could be avoided if Fallujah officials made arrests.

The charred remains of the Americans were dragged through the streets after insurgents ambushed their vehicles. Two bodies were hung from a bridge, and people beat them with shoes and a pole. Iraqi police recovered the bodies.

Wednesday’s gruesome events, and the likelihood of a U.S. military response, brought to the surface months of pent-up resentment against the U.S. occupation.

“Islam bans what was done to the bodies, but the Americans are as brutal as the youths who burned and mutilated the bodies,” said Mahdi Ahmed Saleh, a retired school principal who now runs a small grocery store. “They have done so much to us, and they have humiliated us so often.”

Support on the streets
Saleh, like most men who were interviewed in Fallujah, singled out raids on homes as the most troubling U.S. military practice.

“Look at this wide and long street,” he said. “Do you see any women? So, if we don’t let them out on the street, can you imagine how we feel when American soldiers barge in and see them in their sleeping gowns?”

Fallujah is in the conservative Sunni Arab heartland, an area where anti-U.S. resistance is strongest and where former President Saddam Hussein found many recruits for his elite army units and feared security agencies.

City residents say their suffering under occupation has been compounded by their loss of power in the post-Saddam political order. The Shiite majority and the large Kurdish community now are the two dominant forces in Iraq.

A poll of Iraqis showed that 71 percent of those questioned in Anbar province found attacks on coalition forces acceptable. Only 17 percent of Iraqis elsewhere shared that view. The poll, which was conducted in February by Oxford Research International, reported a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

More U.S. aid demanded
Local officials have said a concrete improvement is needed in Fallujah.

“We were hoping to see one large project that we can point to and say the Americans have done something for us, like a bridge or a hospital,” Brig. Aboud Farhan al-Issawi, the police chief, said late last month. “If American promises remain to be ink on paper, there will be no trust.”

The U.S. military says it had spent at least $40 million on development projects in Anbar province over the past year.

“The American military says there must be security first and then we can have reconstruction,” said Hussein Ali, a former air force engineer who is a member of Fallujah’s U.S.-backed governing council. “We keep telling them that if there is no reconstruction, there will be no security.”

Many residents of Fallujah — about 500,000 people live in the city and surrounding villages — appear supportive, or at least tolerant, of the insurgents.

Shopkeepers and shoppers are warned of imminent attacks on U.S. forces so they can stay out of harm’s way. In one Fallujah district last week, insurgents roamed the streets carrying rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers during a gunbattle with U.S. Marines. None of the insurgents wore masks.

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