U.S. military forces attacked a villa in northern Iraq yesterday and killed Saddam Hussein’s two sons, both former regime leaders, in a fierce gunbattle.
“We’re certain that Uday and Qusai were killed today,” Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad. “We’ve used multiple sources to identify the individuals.”
The deaths of the No. 2 and No. 3 leaders of the ousted Iraqi government mark a turning point in the postwar campaign in Iraq, which has been hampered in recent weeks by daily guerrilla attacks in which 39 U.S. soldiers have been killed.
Allied officials said the deaths of Saddam’s sons will boost efforts to stabilize the situation in Iraq by helping to assure liberated Iraqis that the former Ba’ath Party regime will not return to power.
“I believe very firmly that this will, in fact, have an effect; this will prove to the Iraqi people that at least these two members of the regime will not be coming back into power,” Gen. Sanchez said. “And we remain totally committed to the Hussein regime never returning to power and tormenting the Iraqi people.”
At the White House, Press Secretary Scott McClellan said President Bush was “pleased to learn” of the raid’s outcome.
“Over the period of many years, these two individuals were responsible for countless atrocities committed against the Iraqi people, and they can no longer cast a shadow of hate on Iraq,” Mr. McClellan said, crediting U.S. military and intelligence forces and an Iraqi informant for the success of the operation.
In Baghdad, Iraqis celebrated by firing guns into the air after news of the deaths reached the capital. “It’s celebration. People have heard about what happened,” a U.S. military spokesman told Reuters news agency.
L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, said after a meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill yesterday that it “is really a great day for the Iraqi people.”
“It’s a wonderful day for the fine American men and women in our services, who have shown again how competent and professional they are,” Mr. Bremer said.
“The fact that Baghdad was lighted up with celebratory fire tonight shows you how important this is in meeting the real desires of the Iraqi people to be rid for once and for all of Saddam Hussein, his sons and his odious regime,” he told reporters after briefing 65 senators for more than an hour about the situation in Iraq.
Gen. Sanchez declined to say how the identities of Uday and Qusai were confirmed.
Four U.S. soldiers were injured in the raid. The operation included 101st Airborne Division troops, Army Special Forces commandos and Air Force elements.
When asked whether the raid had produced leads that are helping in the hunt for Saddam, Gen. Sanchez said: “We are still continuing to exploit the site and everything that we captured in that raid.”
The three-star general said the men were killed, as were a teenage son of Uday and a bodyguard, in a “fierce gunbattle” after they had barricaded themselves in a mansion located on the northern edge of Mosul, a northern city close to the Syrian and Iranian borders.
Gen. Sanchez said an Iraqi citizen volunteered information on their location. A reward of up to $30 million for the information is likely to be paid, he said.
“It was a walk-in last night that came in and gave us the information that those two individuals were in that residence,” Gen. Sanchez said.
U.S. officials said that in addition to the informant, other intelligence sources helped confirm that Uday and Qusai were hiding in the three-story building.
The identification of the other two dead persons was not confirmed, Gen. Sanchez said, noting that the bodies of Uday and Qusai “are in a condition that you could identify them.”
Additional details of the raid are expected to be made public in Iraq today, Gen. Sanchez said.
Confirmation of the identities of the four bodies, through DNA testing, is under way and will take several days, U.S. officials said.
The three-hour gunbattle also raised hopes among military and intelligence officials that Saddam — who many believe may be alive — will be captured or killed in the coming days.
The elusive Iraqi leaders had avoided capture and death from U.S. bombing raids and an intensive hunt by special-operations commandos after the war in Iraq began March 19. They had been reported killed during two air strikes at the beginning and end of the conflict.
During the raid yesterday, U.S. forces used small-arms fire and TOW anti-tank missiles in an operation that began about 10 a.m. local time.
“It was a well-coordinated military operation, and we’re happy with the outcome,” Army Brig. Gen. Frank Helmick, who took part in the raid, told Fox News Channel from Mosul.
As U.S. troops approached the building, someone inside opened fire and the battle began, he said.
The troops were unable to get inside the building, and then fired the TOWs — wire-guided missiles — and called in OH-58 Kiowa helicopter gunships, Gen. Helmick said.
Military officials believe Uday and Qusai had fled to Mosul from areas further south after stepped-up military operations in those regions in a search for Iraqi guerrillas and former regime officials.
The leaders also may have been preparing to flee the country.
In other developments, an international aid worker was fatally shot and his Iraqi driver wounded in an attack south of Baghdad yesterday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
The shooting appears to be a sign that pro-Saddam guerrillas are targeting more than just U.S. soldiers.
A U.S. troop was killed yesterday and another wounded during a guerrilla attack near Baghdad. The death brings to 153 the number of American troops killed in Iraq since March.
Uday and Qusai were the top leaders in Iraq after Saddam and had been designated the ace of hearts and ace of clubs, respectively, in the U.S. military’s deck of cards listing the most-wanted Iraqis from the now-ousted Ba’athist regime.
Qusai, 37, was a member of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council, which was led by Saddam, and was in charge of Iraq’s intelligence and security services. He also directed the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard forces.
His death is likely to make more difficult the search for Iraq’s chemical and biological arsenal, which had been in his oversight.
Qusai was considered brutal, according to international human rights groups. One report said he oversaw interrogations of Iraqis who were tortured by being fed into shredding machines.
Military officials said they believe Uday and Qusai had made a decision not to be taken alive and, thus, fought to the death.
Qusai was considered next in line to rule Iraq after Saddam’s death and was deputy commander of the Ba’ath Party’s military bureau.
Uday, 39, was viewed as mentally unbalanced and had killed several people, including an aide to his father, in fits of rage, according to U.S. officials.
He was widely viewed as corrupt and ran several of the Iraqi companies that profited from the United Nations’ oil-for-food program, which brought millions of dollars to Uday’s pockets, the officials said.
Uday directed Iraqi state television and the newspaper Babel.
He also was in charge of the Saddam Fedayeen, the Saddam loyalists who conducted suicide attacks on U.S. forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Fedayeen also are believed to be behind some of the recent attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.
Charles Hurt in Washington and Betsy Pisik in New York contributed to this report.