The pictures reminded viewers of the scenes surrounding the deaths of US servicemen in Somalia a decade ago.
The three main broadcast networks all began their Wednesday evening newscasts with a video of the aftermath of the attack in the city of Falluja, which left four private contractors dead, warning viewers about the graphic images.
ABC and CBS television showed pictures of the bodies being pulled out of a burning vehicle, hacked by angry Iraqis, dragged behind a car and strung up on a bridge, but electronically blurred the images of the corpses.
Both networks noted the similarities with the abuse meted out to the corpses of US soldiers killed in Somalia in October 1993 in an ill-fated raid depicted in the book and movie Black Hawk Down.
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The other major network, NBC, edited the pictures so that the corpses were less visible, but also devoted the first segment of its broadcast to the ambush.
CNN television also reported extensively on the deaths in Falluja.
The network initially declined to show any images of the bodies of the victims but repeatedly ran footage of their burning vehicle and jubilant Iraqis.
In a report later in the day it showed pictures of the charred bodies hanging from a bridge as a CNN correspondent said: “Some images are necessary to fully show the extent of the violence.”
CNN anchor Paula Zahn asked viewers: “Does today change the way you look at the war?”
On the internet, Yahoo! News removed particularly graphic photographs of the bodies from its web pages.
The four Americans killed in Falluja were civilians who worked for a private company named Blackwater Security Consulting based in Moyock, North Carolina.
“Does today change the way you look at the war?”
CNN anchor Paula Zahn
In a statement, Blackwater said the company was “providing convoy security for food deliveries in the Falluja area”.
The White House condemned the “horrific” attack but vowed to stay the course in Iraq.
“These are horrific attacks by people who are trying to prevent democracy from moving forward,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. “We condemn these attacks on the strongest possible terms.”
“There are some who want to intimidate the Iraqi people, who want to intimidate the coalition, they want to intimidate the international community and they cannot,” he said. “We will not turn back from our efforts.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations also condemned the attack and mutilations, saying they “violated both Islamic and international norms of conduct,” and calling on all parties to the conflict “to respect the sanctity of the dead.”
The attack in the Somalian capital Mogadishu came during what should have been a relatively straightforward US search and capture mission that went badly wrong.
But by the end of the exercise, 18 Americans were killed, hundreds of Somalis lost their lives and thousands were injured.
Pictures of a dead American serviceman being dragged through the street aired constantly on US television, and led to the eventual evacuation of US forces from Somalia.