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U.S. Army: 'We will respond' to contractor killings

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt: "We will be back in Fallujah."

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Despite brutality in Fallujah, U.S. officials are vowing to stay the course in Iraq.

CNN's Walter Rodgers on the horrific aftermath of contractors' slayings in Iraq.

Within weeks of coming into office, President Bush approved the secret 'Operation Desert Badger' for Iraq.
Gallery: Contractors killed in Fallujah (This report includes graphic images. Viewer discretion is advised.)
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Top U.S. officials in Baghdad Thursday decried the killings of four U.S. security contractors in Fallujah, vowed to hunt down the perpetrators and promised to pacify the restive anti-U.S. hotbed.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a U.S. Army spokesman, said "we will be back in Fallujah. It will be at the time and place of our choosing. We will hunt down the criminals."

"Quite simply, we will respond," Kimmitt said.

"We are not going to do a pell-mell rush into the city," Kimmitt said. "It's going to be deliberate. It will be precise and it will be overwhelming. We will not rush in to make things worse. We will plan our way through this and we will re-establish control of that city -- and we will pacify that city."

"I suspect that most Iraqi people were as horrified," Kimmitt said.

He also said it is "unfair to characterize a tragic incident as a loss of control to the city" and said Marines, who have set up traffic stops outside the city, handled Wednesday's flare-up prudently.

"I think there was a well-thought-out decision on part of the Marines that let's not rush headlong into there. There may be ambushes set up," Kimmitt said.

"There may be civilians being used as human shields and at this point while it was dreadful, while it was unacceptable, while it was bestial, a pre-emptive attack into the city could have taken a bad situation and made it even worse."

Top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer, speaking at a police cadet graduation ceremony, said, "Yesterday's events in Fallujah are a dramatic example of the ongoing struggle between human dignity and barbarism."

The four -- employees of a security company that has provided security for Bremer -- "were attacked and their bodies subjected to barbarous maltreatment," Bremer said. "The acts we have seen were despicable and inexcusable. They violate the tenets of all religions including Islam as well as the foundations of civilized society.

"Their deaths will not go unpunished."

The contractors were killed in a grenade attack by suspected insurgents.

Afterward, residents cheered and pulled charred bodies from burning vehicles and hung them from a Euphrates River bridge.

Crowds gathered around the vehicles and dragged at least one of the bodies through the streets, witnesses said.

Residents pulled another body from one of the cars and beat it with sticks.

The bodies eventually were recovered by authorities, the Coalition Press Information Center said. But it is not known by whom and exactly when.

Five American soldiers also died Wednesday in a roadside bombing near Habbaniya, the U.S. military said.

The fatalities brought the U.S. military death toll in Iraq to 600, 408 of them in hostile action.

As the date to transfer governing power from the U.S.-led coalition to the Iraqis gets closer, U.S. officials said they expect more attacks like Wednesday's in Fallujah.

Bremer said the coalition will cooperate with and help the Iraqis after the June 30 handover of sovereignty and "for as long as necessary."

Violence continued Thursday as two roadside bombs exploded northwest of Baghdad, apparently targeting a convoy of 25 fuel tankers under U.S. military escort, according to eyewitnesses and military sources.

The first improvised explosive device (IED) hit an Iraqi civilian vehicle at 7:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m. ET Wednesday), sending the driver to a hospital for treatment, witnesses said. About 40 minutes later, the second IED struck the fuel tanker convoy, wounding an employee for a U.S. military contractor who was driving one of the fuel trucks.

The IEDs are believed to have been detonated by remote control.

None of the trucks exploded, and the wounded driver -- whose nationality was unclear -- was evacuated for further treatment.

Contractors provided security for food deliveries

The four American civilians killed were employees of Blackwater Security Consulting, a U.S. government contractor providing security for food deliveries in Fallujah, the company said. (Full story)

The North Carolina -based security firm said Thursday it will not release the names of the victims "out of respect for their families."

"We grieve today for the loss of our colleagues and we pray for their families," Blackwater Security Consulting said in a statement.

Witnesses of the incident said two Mitsubishi vehicles left a military base east of Fallujah to make their way into the city, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of Baghdad.

The vehicles turned onto a Fallujah street as men -- whose faces were covered by head scarves -- split into two groups and threw hand grenades at the cars, witnesses said.

The assailants then shot small-arms fire at the burning cars.

Video showed crowds chanting and cheering at the scene, with charred corpses hanging from the bridge over the Euphrates.

Samir Shakir Mahmud al-Sumaidaie, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, on Thursday said he feels "as much revulsion of what has happened as any American or indeed as any member of those families of those that lost. We feel repulsed and feel the repulsion."

Fallujah is part of al Anbar province in the Sunni Triangle, a region north and west of the capital that has been a hotbed of opposition to the U.S. presence.

Meanwhile, a trade fair that had been planned for next week in Baghdad was postponed because of security concerns, the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry announced Thursday.

The Destination Baghdad Expo -- a scheduled conference of foreign companies interested in investing in Iraq was set to begin Monday, according to Raad Omar, a spokesman for the group said.

The expo was scheduled to be held at the Baghdad International Fairgrounds in the city's Mansour district, but organizers now are hoping to stage it at the end of the month and at a more secure location.

Omar said the cancellation had nothing to do with the attack Wednesday in Fallujah.

CNN's Kevin Flower, Melissa Gray, Sue Kroll, Vivian Paulsen and Auday Sadik contributed to this report.

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