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Beheading shocks Iraqis, who despair over violence

BAGHDAD -- Most Baghdad residents yesterday condemned the beheading of a US civilian in Iraq, but many said his death was just the latest atrocity in a cycle of violence that is driving them to despair.

A website video showed a masked man cutting off the head of Nicholas Berg, a 26-year-old civilian, and said Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq had personally carried out the killing in revenge for abuses against Iraqi prisoners.

Berg disappeared last month when dozens of foreigners were seized by guerrillas after Marines launched a crackdown in Fallujah. The Marine operation followed the killing and grisly mutilation of four US security guards in the city.

"The Americans killed hundreds in Fallujah in retaliation for the mutilation of the four Americans, and now those people are killing an American in retaliation for the torture of prisoners," said Arkan Mohammad, a cleric at Baghdad University. "Someone has to do something to stop the cycle of violence from going on and on."

Even in the Baghdad Sunni Muslim stronghold of Adhamiya, where opposition to the occupation is fierce, the decapitation of Berg appalled many residents.

"We denounce this act. No one can accept the killing of another human being in this horrible way," said Yassir Saleh, a 30-year-old barber. He, too, pointed to a tide of violence that has swept the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Many Iraqis say they oppose the US-led occupation but also despise insurgents whose suicide attacks, mortar strikes, and bomb blasts have killed far more Iraqis than Americans.

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