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US confirms killing of four contractors in Iraq

Mob said to attack convoy last month

BAGHDAD -- Four US contractors were killed last month when their convoy took a wrong turn, drove into a town north of Baghdad and was attacked by a mob, a senior US military official said yesterday.

The attack, which occurred Sept. 20 in the town of Duluiyah, about 45 miles north of Baghdad, was first reported yesterday by Britain's Daily Telegraph. The senior US military commander confirmed the account. There was no explanation for why the military did not report the deaths earlier.

The commander said the four men -- identified by the Telegraph as employees of the Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root -- realized they had taken a wrong turn and were desperately trying to escape from the town when insurgents attacked their vehicle.

The Telegraph said ''dozens of Sunni Arab insurgents wielding rocket launchers and automatic rifles" pursued the truck and shot at it.

Two contractors who were not killed in the initial firing were dragged from their vehicle, and one was shot in the back of the head, the newspaper said. The crowd ''doused the other with petrol and set him alight. Barefoot children, yelping in delight, piled straw on to the screaming man's body to stoke the flames," according to the report.

The crowd then ''dragged their corpses through the street, chanting anti-US slogans," the newspaper reported.

Details of the account could not be independently verified.

The incident is reportedly under investigation.

''Soldiers responded to assist the convoy, administered first aid to two wounded contractors and evacuated the remains of four wounded contractors killed in the attack," a military spokesman told Reuters news service in a statement Saturday.

American soldiers who were escorting the convoy were unable to respond quickly enough to save the men, according to a US military officer who interviewed soldiers involved in the incident and who spoke to the Telegraph.

''The hatches of the Humvees were closed," the officer, Captain Andrew Staples, told the newspaper.

The attack recalled a similar one in March 2004, when a mob in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah killed four US security contractors, mutilated their bodies and hanged them from a bridge.

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