The U.S. says Saddam Hussein's two sons were killed on 22 July during a fierce firefight in northern Iraq. RFE/RL spoke to military analysts about how the news of their deaths may affect the U.S. administration in that country.
Washington, 23 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. military says it has killed Saddam Hussein's sons, Qusay and Uday, who are widely described as the two most dreaded people in Iraq after their father.
U.S. Army General Ricardo Sanchez, who is in charge of ground forces in Iraq, told a news conference late on 22 July in Baghdad that American forces were told by an informant that the two brothers were hiding in a villa outside the northern Iraqi city of Mosul owned by a cousin of Saddam Hussein.
The Americans raided the building and, in a long firefight, suffered four wounded, but killed those inside. Speaking later in the capital, Sanchez said, "Four persons were killed during that operation and were removed from the building, and we have since confirmed that Uday and Qusay Hussein are among the dead."
Sanchez said DNA tests on tissue taken from the two bodies had not been completed, but he said U.S. officials were confident of their identities.
"We've used multiple sources to identify the individuals."
By all accounts, Qusay and Uday Hussein were greatly feared by ordinary Iraqis -- those who were not members of the Ba'ath Party. Uday, the older son, was notorious for his cruelty as well as his extravagant lifestyle. He also controlled the Saddam Fedayeen, the paramilitary force that provided much of the resistance to U.S. and British forces early in the war.
The younger son, Qusay, is said to be more conventional than his brother and is widely reported to have been his father's choice as his successor. He is believed to have controlled the elite Republican Guard, as well as other militias and Iraq's internal security operation.
The American in charge of the civil administration in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, was in Washington at the time of the raid for consultations with the administration of President George W. Bush and Congress. Bremer chose not to speak about how the Hussein brothers' deaths would affect his security efforts, but he added the news should encourage the Iraqi people.
Some independent military analysts were less reluctant to assess the effect on security, including Kenneth Allard, a retired U.S. Army colonel who served as an intelligence officer.
"That helps the United States out enormously simply because of the fact that it [the killing of the two sons] is the most visible symbol that we have, that we continue to go after the old regime no matter where or how they may have tried to hide," Allard says.
Allard also tells RFE/RL that the killing of Hussein's sons shows that security surrounding the highest-ranking members of the deposed government may not be as thorough as previously believed. He also says it could eventually lead to the capture of Hussein himself.
"The fact that we have actually gotten to these guys suggests that their security is not air-tight, that when you do the right things -- stick to the fundamentals, good intelligence, operations based on that intelligence, and you simply stick to it, you simply keep at it -- it will pay dividends for you if you do all the right things consistently, and we have," Allard says.
What is most important, according to Allard, is that successfully hunting down Uday and Qusay Hussein validates the allied military mission in Iraq. He notes that some critics have recently pointed to the growing attacks on U.S. and British forces as evidence that the Bush administration devoted too little planning to administering the country after the fall of Hussein.
Another former U.S. Army intelligence officer, General Edward Atkeson, speaks of what he calls the "symbolic" significance of killing the Hussein brothers. Atkeson tells RFE/RL that it should provide a much-needed stimulus to the morale of U.S. soldiers in Iraq because it demonstrates their ability to take on a seemingly impossible task and carry it out successfully.
"From a military perspective, it would sort of re-energize what's become kind of a dragged-out process there. Morale has not been at the top of the flagpole, you know. And something like this has symbolic importance. It shows that the soldiers can react rapidly and efficiently when they're called upon to do so," Atkeson says.
Atkeson also is quick to note that hunting down Hussein's sons would be what he called "a political bonus at home" for Bush. He notes that Bush is suddenly beset with criticism about his reference to what he believed was a British intelligence report that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium in Africa for a suspected nuclear-weapons program.
Not all military analysts, however, saw the report on Qusay and Uday in an entirely positive light. Ted Galen Carpenter is the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a policy research center in Washington.
Carpenter tells RFE/RL that beyond the positive news, the killing of Hussein's sons also poses a challenge for the Bush administration. He notes that U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have repeatedly stated that the Iraqi people are relieved that Hussein's government has been overthrown and that only a few Hussein supporters are responsible for the recent deadly attacks on coalition forces.
Now, Carpenter says, the world may find out if this claim is true. "This is going to test the [Bush] administration's explanation for the armed insurgency in Iraq, that it's diehard elements of the old regime. If that is the case, then those elements are going to be utterly demoralized by this development, and we should see the armed attacks subside. If those attacks do not subside, then it suggests that the resistance is more widespread," Carpenter says.
Carpenter also says the military in Iraq -- and the civilian administration in Washington -- should be careful about raising hopes about the deaths of Hussein's sons before they have conclusive evidence.
"That would be a big problem for the administration, and it's one of the reasons I would think they'd be cautious about making any claims until they had definitive evidence, because at this point, Saddam and his sons have had more lives than a cat," Carpenter says.
Carpenter also says it probably would have been wiser if the U.S. military, or the Bush administration, had insisted on waiting for a positive DNA match on each son before announcing their deaths.