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U.S. Kills Hussein's Sons in Firefight at Mansion

An informant's tip triggers a six-hour siege. The deaths of Uday and Qusai spark celebration -- and a hope resistance has been weakened.

July 23, 2003|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

MOSUL, Iraq — Acting on a tip from an Iraqi informant, U.S. forces backed by rocket-firing helicopters stormed a luxury home on the outskirts of this northern city on Tuesday. After a six-hour operation they removed the bodies of two of the most hated and feared men in Iraq: Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusai.

Two other Iraqis were killed in the assault. Residents of the neighborhood said they were a bodyguard and a teenager, believed to be Qusai's son. U.S. officials said they were still unsure of that pair's identity.

But Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the American commander in Baghdad, said they were sure about Hussein's sons.

"We are certain that Qusai and Uday were killed today," Sanchez said at a news conference. "The bodies were in such a condition where you could identify them."

The two brothers ranked second only to their father in the deposed regime and shared his reputation for the brutal exercise of power. They were Nos. 2 and 3 on the list of most-wanted Iraqis compiled by the U.S. military. In recent weeks, the Pentagon offered $15 million for information leading to the capture of each brother.

The deaths of Uday, 39, and Qusai, 37, mark a strong blow to the morale of fighters from the former regime still resisting the American-led occupation, U.S. defense officials said. The resistance movement has been fueled in part by rumors that Hussein and his sons were alive and directing the battle.

News of the killings spread rapidly across Iraq. Red, white and green tracers were visible across the moonless Baghdad skyline as many residents went to their rooftops or yards to fire automatic weapons in celebration. But some members of the public vowed that the death of the pair would not end the resistance to the U.S.-led occupation.

In Washington, L. Paul Bremer III, the top U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, told reporters during a visit to Capitol Hill: "It's a great day for the Iraqi people and a great day for the American military, who showed their astounding professionalism in this operation."

President Bush "was pleased to hear the news," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. "Uday and Qusai were two leaders of a very brutal regime, and this is further assurance to the people of Iraq that the regime is gone and will not be back."

Bush is scheduled to discuss operations in Iraq during an appearance in the Rose Garden this morning.

As pieced together from witnesses and military spokesmen in Mosul, Tuesday's action began before 9 a.m. when troops of the Army's 101st Airborne Division surrounded the imposing columned house of wealthy businessman Nawaf Zaidan, who claimed kinship to Saddam Hussein and reputedly had been involved in business dealings with the two sons.

According to Brig. Gen. Frank Helmick, deputy commander of the 101st Airborne, the division had received "actionable intelligence" the night before that "high-ranking members of the former government" were using the home. In Baghdad, Sanchez said an unidentified Iraqi had approached U.S. forces with the information.

A witness at the scene said a small group of soldiers took Zaidan into custody and put him in an Army vehicle near the house with his hands bound in plastic cuffs. Zaidan was heard urging the soldiers not to search the house because they would meet fierce resistance.

While the discussion was taking place, gunfire erupted from the house directed at the soldiers. The small-arms fire began from the roof and then came from the rest of the building. The soldiers called in scores of reinforcements.

U.S. troops stormed the abandoned first floor of the house but were initially unable to penetrate the "hardened" second floor, where the Iraqis had barricaded themselves behind bulletproof windows and other materials, defense officials said.

"We proceeded to wear away at their will to resist until the point came, late in the day, where we entered their house," said Maj. Hugh "Trey" Cate, a public affairs officer for the 101st Airborne. That was around 1:30 p.m., he said.

Helmick said that when the people barricaded inside did not surrender in the face of small arms and .50-caliber machine guns, "we had to use bigger caliber weapons." Brought to bear on the house were wire-guided TOW missiles, rockets fired from Kiowa OH-58D light assault helicopters and Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher systems.

The resulting mismatch was exactly what the Army wanted, Helmick said. He expressed pride in the accuracy of the fire, which decimated Zaidan's house but left other buildings in the neighborhood unscathed except for broken windows and bullet and fragment holes in their rooftop cisterns.

"Doggone it, Americans should be proud of these soldiers," he said.

Helmick said the troops were careful to avoid harming a large mosque across from the Zaidan residence. At the time the siege of the house began, the soldiers set up a cordon in the neighborhood, stopping people from attending noon prayers at the mosque for their own safety.

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