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Iraq: Deadly Blasts Target U.S. Troops, Raise Concerns Of Revenge Attacks

Prague, 23 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Separate roadside explosions in Iraq today killed two U.S. soldiers, raising concerns about the possibility of a wave of revenge attacks following the deaths of Saddam Hussein's two sons.

U.S. military officials says Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed yesterday in a fierce battle as U.S. troops and Iraqi police raided a villa in the northern city of Mosul.

Mosul lies at the northern tip of an area known as the "Sunni triangle." The region stretches to the north and west of Baghdad and is considered a stronghold for Hussein loyalists who have blended into the civilian population there.

Early today near Mosul, one U.S. soldier was killed and six were injured when an improvised explosive device was detonated on a roadside as a U.S. military convoy passed by.

Overnight, one U.S. soldier was killed and two were injured in a similar attack against their convoy near the town of Ramadi, to the west of Baghdad.

Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S.-led coalition ground forces in Iraq, stressed to journalists in Baghdad today that the war is not over. But he said the deaths of Hussein's sons do mark a turning point.

"The death of Uday and Qusay, I believe, is definitely going to be a turning point for the resistance and the subversive elements that we are encountering," Sanchez said. "But our mission is not complete. We still have other elements and individuals on the high-value target list that we continue to focus on -- the mid-level leadership that is still out there conducting operations against our forces. And we will not relent. We will continue to focus until we have accomplished our mission."

Forty-one U.S. troops and six British soldiers have been killed by hostile fire since U.S. President George W. Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq on 1 May.

American soldiers say they hope the deaths of Uday and Qusay will cause guerrilla attacks against them to diminish. Still, the soldiers say they remain wary about remnants of Hussein's regime.

Political leaders who supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq are expressing similar optimism mixed with caution.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said today he expects the deaths of the two brothers to bring a measure of stability to Iraq. But Howard included caveats with his assessment.

"Many Iraqi people have still lived in fear of the restoration of the old regime, and the apparent deaths of Saddam's two sons is a huge step towards removing that fear, and it should make a solid contribution to the security situation," he said. "I don't want to overstate that, but psychologically it's a huge step forward."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair suggested today that celebratory gunfire across much of Iraq overnight shows that most Iraqis do not support the remnants of Hussein's regime -- which Washington blames for the guerrilla campaign against U.S. and British forces.

"This is a great day for the new Iraq. These two particular people were at the head of a regime that wasn't just a security threat because of its weapons program but was responsible -- as we can see from the mass graves -- for the torture and killing of thousands and thousands of innocent Iraqis," Blair said. "And the celebrations that are taking place are an indication of just how evil they were."

The U.S. administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said in Washington today that the deaths of Uday and Qusay "marginally improves" the safety of U.S. troops in Iraq. But Bremer said he expects "revenge attacks" during the next few days.

Bremer was more cautious yesterday in his initial public statement about the reported deaths of Uday and Qusay:

"The only comment I will make about the death of the sons is that it's a great day for the Iraqi people and a great day for the American military who once again showed their astounding professionalism in this operation."

Captain Sean Nowlan, a member of the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division in northern Iraq, told the Associated Press that the deaths of Uday and Qusay represent "the best thing that can happen" to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Nowlan said he thinks that, in the long run, their deaths will "deflate" the Iraqi guerrilla campaign.

But U.S. Army Sergeant Colin Frederick -- whose job is to patrol the strongholds of Hussein loyalists in northern Iraq -- said he is preparing for the likelihood of an initial wave of revenge attacks.

Analysts say that if the wave of recent guerrilla attacks against coalition troops in Iraq is being directed by Hussein loyalists, as Washington maintains, then an initial increase of "revenge" attacks is likely. But they say the number of attacks in the future should decrease as remnants of the regime become demoralized.

Analysts say any ongoing guerrilla campaign against coalition forces would suggest resistance in the country may be more widespread than Washington has suggested.