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Three U.S. soldiers die in Iraq; photos of Saddam's sons released

MOSUL, Iraq—The U.S. military released graphic postmortem photos Thursday of Saddam Hussein's sons Odai and Qusai, to prove that American troops had killed them in a fierce shoot-out in the northern Iraqi town of Mosul earlier this week.

Iraqis expressed both joy and skepticism Thursday as they gathered around television sets for their first look at the bodies of Saddam's sons, larger-than-life figures for Iraqis who watched their transformation from handsome, well-dressed boys into monstrous instruments of their father's regime.

Military officials had hoped the deaths would bring fewer attacks against U.S. troops, but not even 48 hours later came the killing of three more soldiers, these from the 101st Airborne Division, in a convoy ambush. Two soldiers also were killed Wednesday.

Thursday's attack occurred around 2:30 a.m. just outside Mosul. According to an American military statement, the soldiers were killed when the convoy in which they were traveling was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons as they were on their way to the town of Qayarrah, west of Mosul and about 180 miles north of Baghdad. No U.S. soldiers were reported wounded. American soldiers secured the area after the attack and found two rocket-propelled grenades and an AK-47 rifle at the site, but the gunmen got away.

The two U.S. military photos that were released showed the first dead man, identified as Qusai, with bruises around his eyes and blood on his face. His mouth was open and his face was showing. The face of the man identified as Odai, the older brother, was severely damaged by wounds, with a gash across his face and bruises and blood on his forehead.

Both wore thick, heavy beards, an apparent effort to disguise themselves after more than three months on the run.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld defended the release of the photographs. "This is an unusual situation," he said. "This regime has been in power for decades. These two individuals were particularly vicious individuals. . . . They are now dead. . . . The Iraqi people have been waiting for confirmation of that, and they, in my view, deserve having confirmation of that."

Iraqi reaction was mixed.

"The Americans say they have confirmed it, but the Iraqi people don't believe it," said Hassan Khoja, 30, an electronic parts dealer who lives down the block from where the brothers were killed. "Odai and Qusai never stayed in one place at the same time in their entire lives. They were too smart for that. If the Americans have actually killed them, then why don't they show the tape of the first hours after the attack?"

Another neighbor echoed the belief that the brothers were too crafty to stay in one place too long and get killed.

"We don't believe they were killed," said Abas Muslim Ali, 45, who lives two blocks away from the house where the brothers died. "They would have never been so foolish as to have stayed there for 23 days."

Others found the photos convincing.

"This is the appropriate evidence that Odai and Qusai are dead," said Mohamed Fatlawi, 23, viewing the photos in his electronics shop in Baghdad. "God willing, now they will catch the father."

Other Iraqis gasped or whispered prayers as the bloody bodies were displayed onscreen.

The photos were immediately broadcast on the Arab satellite networks al Jazeera and al Arabiya, which are seen daily by millions of Arabs across the Middle East.

Also broadcast on an Arabic-language television station Thursday was a videotape by Saddam loyalists. In disguise and against a backdrop that included photos of the brothers, Fedayeen militia fighters pledged more assaults on U.S. troops. The men, kneeling in front of several weapons, said the tape was recorded the day Saddam's sons were killed.

"We are sorry for the killing of Odai and Qusai in an unfair battle with U.S. troops," one unidentified man said in the recording. "We tell Saddam that his sons were killed, but his other sons—the Iraqi people—are not. The deaths of Odai and Qusai will only increase our attacks, and we should also fight people who betrayed the country and cooperated with the Americans."

Also in Baghdad, a shooting incident that resulted in the deaths of two Iraqis produced a surge of anger.

In the Bab al Sheik neighborhood of East Baghdad, crowds picked up pieces of human tissue and pointed to blood in a charred, bullet-ridden car that had carried two Iraqi men who apparently were shot to death after they failed to stop at a checkpoint. American military officials wouldn't confirm how the men died, but said troops were conducting aggressive patrols in Bab al Sheik, which was described as a high-crime area where a kidnapping ring was recently discovered.

Khaled Haider, 40, said he was serving customers in a coffee shop across the street when he saw the car turn the corner and speed up to the checkpoint, driving over a razor-wire cordon. Several witnesses said they heard the driver shouting in Arabic that he was trying to reach a hospital. U.S. troops opened fire, killing the two men and striking Haider in the foot, he said. Haider, whose foot was bleeding through a thin bandage, said he was refused treatment by medical workers who were concerned that the injury came from an attack on U.S. troops.

"We thanked the Americans first for getting rid of Saddam, but what happened today is not right," Haider said. "It's not right to attack people, to shoot them randomly. In the street, you have men, women, children and the elderly. People were shopping."

Latifah Ismail, 60, said checkpoints were set up in different parts of the area every day, taking residents by surprise when they drove along familiar routes and discovered American troops. Razor wire, which the U.S. military uses across the city, and bullet holes were the only remaining evidence of a checkpoint two hours after the early-morning incident.

Two large demonstrations for Iraqi prisoners also took place Thursday in central and west Baghdad. One group asked for the release of political prisoners allegedly held by the United States and the other carried banners asking American forces to free 20 men who were seized in a raid of the al Jaboor tribe in Duloiyah, about an hour north of Baghdad.

Tribal leaders said the men were arrested after U.S. forces conducted a raid based on false information. American military officials couldn't be reached for comment on the prisoners, said to range in age from 14 to 70.

"We've tried to contact them in prison, but the military refused," said Ismail Fayad, 37, a member of the tribe. "This bad behavior by Americans won't win them any friends, only enemies."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): usiraq

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20030724 USIRAQ deaths