Iraqi teenagers dragged two bloodied US soldiers from a wrecked vehicle in Mosul and pummeled them with concrete blocks, said witnesses who described the killings as a burst of savagery in a city once safe for Americans.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, an oil pipeline was on fire yesterday, and local officials said the blaze may have been caused by sabotage.
Witnesses to the Mosul attack said gunmen shot two soldiers driving through the city center, sending their vehicle crashing into a wall. The 101st Airborne Division said the soldiers were driving to another garrison.
About a dozen swarming teenagers dragged the soldiers out of the wreckage and beat them with concrete blocks, the witnesses said.
"They lifted a block and hit them with it on the face," said Younis Mahmoud, 19.
It was unknown whether the soldiers were alive or dead when pulled from the wreckage.
Initial reports said the soldiers' throats were cut. But another witness, teenager Bahaa Jassim, said the wounds appeared to have come from bullets.
"One of the soldiers was shot under the chin and the bullet came out of his head. I saw the hole in his helmet. The other was shot in the throat," Jassim said.
Some people looted the vehicle of weapons, CDs and a backpack, Jassim said.
"They remained there for over an hour without the Americans knowing anything about it," he said. "I ... went and told other troops."
Television footage showed the soldiers' bodies splayed on the ground as US troops secured the area. One victim's foot appeared to have been severed.
The frenzy recalled the October 1993 scene in Somalia, when locals dragged the bodies of Marines killed in fighting with warlords through the streets.
Details about the fire, on a subsidiary line linking the Janbur oil fields near Kirkuk with the main pipeline in the region, were sketchy, said Adel al-Qazzaz, manager of the Northern Oil Company. But he said that he believed sabotage was to blame.
Insurgents have repeatedly targeted pipelines linking the fields around Kirkuk with a refinery at Bayji, about 80km to the southwest, and Turkey to the north.