MOSUL, Iraq—The military operation that resulted in the killings of Odai and Qusai Hussein began around 10 a.m. Tuesday after an unidentified Iraqi informant tipped off U.S. troops the night before that the brothers were staying at a home in Mosul.
According to U.S. commander Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, a senior American military officer who was at the scene Wednesday and Iraqi eyewitnesses, U.S. troops from the 101st Airborne's 2nd Brigade first cordoned off the neighborhood surrounding the opulent two-story house. Then an Iraqi interpreter with a bullhorn called on everyone inside to surrender.
Three men who live in the neighborhood said the owner of the house, Nawaf al Zaydan Muhhamad, and his 16-year-old son, Shalan, came out with their hands up. Several neighbors said Muhhamad, whom they described as about 55 years old, had claimed in the past to be one of Saddam's cousins. American troops hustled them away, placed them against a nearby wall and searched them. Then, according to two neighbors, Muhhamad began shouting.
"He was shouting out at the Americans that he had been hiding Odai and Qusai for 23 days and he was proud of it," said Hussein Yussuf, 33, who lives two houses away.
U.S. troops arrested Muhhamad and his son and led them away. Some neighbors said they suspected it was Muhhamad who had tipped off the troops and that the arrest was a ruse.
An interpreter again began calling on the bullhorn. According to Sanchez and eyewitnesses, American troops called for about 10 minutes through the interpreter for those remaining inside to come out, but received no response.
"No one came out," said Abas Muslim Ali, 45, a former tax collector who lives about a block away. "So the Americans went through the gate. Some went over the walls. There were more than 20. When they went through the gate, the bullets started shooting. The Americans retreated."
According to Sanchez, U.S. troops entered the house and were met with small-arms fire, most likely from AK-47s. Three soldiers were wounded on the stairs, and another was hit outside the building. The soldiers quickly withdrew.
A senior American military officer at the scene, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the overall operation involved about 200 soldiers, including members of JTF-20, a highly secretive unit made up of Navy SEALs and Army Delta Force commandos who specialize in close-quarter combat.
U.S. forces responded with a fusillade of fire, including machine guns, grenade launchers, Humvee-mounted anti-tank TOW missiles and Kiowa helicopters, which circled overhead, firing 2.75 mm rockets into the building. Spent casings from 5.56 mm rifles and machine guns littered the wide boulevard in front of the house Wednesday.
Ali said a group of soldiers climbed onto a house directly in front of his and launched shoulder-fired rockets at the besieged house.
American troops entered the house a second time, were met again with gunfire and the U.S. barrage continued. Apache helicopters also circled, in case heavier backup was needed, but they weren't used, Sanchez said, for fear of wounding or killing civilians nearby.
The firefight lasted from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Ali and other eyewitnesses said the helicopters fired about 10 missiles at the house during the last hour. Most of the upper floor, which bore the brunt of the assault, was reduced to smoking rubble. Ten large shell holes pockmarked the north side of the house. The senior officer at the scene said that about 10 anti-tank TOW missiles were fired during the fight. Sanchez said three of the four men inside, including Odai and Qusai, probably were killed by the TOW missiles.
Sanchez said U.S. troops stormed the house for the last time around 1:30 p.m. A fourth man was killed. Sanchez refused to comment on reports that the fourth man was Qusai's teenage son. The bodies were flown to Baghdad International Airport, he said, where forensic specialists will conduct autopsies and officials will plan burial arrangements.
Sanchez said no civilians were injured in the operation. But Dr. Riad Hamdi, a specialist in forensic medicine at Mosul's Jumariyah Hospital, confirmed that he had performed an autopsy on one man who had been shot through the mouth and killed, by what several Iraqis claimed were American troops. Two other men were wounded in the incident, treated and released, Hamdi said.
Maan al Ghulami, 43, a civil engineer, said he witnessed U.S. troops firing warning shots over the heads of a group of about 60 to 70 people who gathered to protest the operation and began throwing rocks at four or five Americans who were manning a checkpoint.
The senior U.S. military officer at the scene acknowledged that American troops had fired warning shots, and said one man was wounded by a warning shot that ricocheted into the crowd.
As U.S. troops continued Wednesday to cordon off the site of the operation, crowds of Iraqis clustered on a sidewalk across from the house. They were by turns indifferent and angry.
"He was a good man and a good neighbor," said Marhar Rashid al Khazer, 30, who lives across the street from the house. "And he is Muslim, so we are not happy about it. We saw the Americans take four bodies away, but we don't know who they were."
As the crowd grew, so did its anger.
"At first, when the Americans came, everyone in Mosul supported them," said Mousan Abdullah, 45, an unemployed laborer. "They promised many things, but they have given us nothing but trouble. That's why we hate them and are ready to kill them. Saddam told us that when the Americans came, they would do nothing but steal from us. Now we see he was right."
Within minutes, agitators in the crowd of about 100 began whipping the group into a chant. "Bush, Bush, listen to us," they shouted. "We love Saddam Hussein."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Saddams sons
GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20030723 USIRAQ Mosul