Less than 1% of those polled believed that the forces were responsible for any improvement in security.

Eighty-two per cent of those polled said they were strongly opposed to the presence of the troops.

The paper said the poll, conducted in August by an Iraqi university research team, was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence.

Britain has more than 8000 soldiers stationed in the south of Iraq, and has had 97 soldiers killed, the most recent killed by a roadside bomb on Tuesday night.

Baghdad blast

On Sunday morning, a car bomb killed four people, including two police officers, when it exploded near a police patrol in central Baghdad, Iraqi police said. 

The blast also injured 13 others, both police and civilians. 

The past 10 days have seen a relative lull in violence amid a constitutional referendum on 15 October and the start of Saddam Hussein's trial for crimes against humanity on Wednesday.

Contractors killed

On Sunday, the US military confirmed that four American contractors were killed and two wounded in Iraq last month when their convoy got lost and was attacked by an angry group of Iraqis in a town north of Baghdad. 

Humvees were in the US convoy
attacked in Duluiya

The attack occurred on 20 September when the convoy, which included US military guards riding in Humvees, made a wrong turn into the mostly Sunni Arab town of Duluiya and armed fighters opened fire with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, Major Richard Goldenberg, a spokesman for Task Force Liberty in north-central Iraq, said.

"Task Force Liberty soldiers, which have a forward operating base in that area, responded to assist the convoy, administered first aid to two wounded contractors and evacuated the remains of four contractors killed," Goldenberg said.
 
He said the attack caused no US military casualties, but that his men, acting on a tip, returned to the area two days later to detain an individual suspected of ties to the attack, and killed two people after coming under fire.

The 20 September Duluiya attack, which occurred about 75km north of Baghdad, was first reported on Saturday by the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.
 
Halliburton employees

It was not immediately clear why the US military had not reported the deaths earlier, but two other military spokesmen said on Sunday that the military generally relied on US government officials to report the deaths of American civilians and contractors in Iraq.

The men worked for Halliburton
subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root

The contractors killed or wounded were identified by the newspaper as employees of the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, the biggest US military contractor in Iraq, but Goldenberg said he could not confirm their identities.

He said the convoy was being protected by a separate division of the US military, and that Task Force Liberty soldiers responded because it was travelling north through their district when the attack occurred.

The newspaper reported that two of the contractors who had not been killed in the initial attack in Duluiya were dragged alive from their vehicle, which had been badly shot up, and forced to kneel in the road before being killed.

The paper said: "Killing one of the men with a rifle round fired into the back of his head, they doused the other with petrol and set him alight."

It said: "Barefoot children, yelping in delight, piled straw on to the screaming man's body to stoke the flames." The crowd then "dragged their corpses through the street, chanting anti-US slogans", the newspaper reported.

Questions

Goldenberg said he could not confirm such details since his men were not at the scene when the attack occurred.

But he questioned a part of the report saying the US soldiers escorting the convoy were unable to respond quickly because the hatches on their Humvees were closed.

He said gunners generally had open positions on top of such vehicles.

In its report on the attack, The Washington Post said on Sunday that the September killings brought to about 320 the number of non-Iraqi contractors killed in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003, according to statistics complied by the Brookings Institution.

At least 1996 US servicemen and women have been killed since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to the Pentagon.

More than 15,000 have been wounded.