Some critics ask why sons weren't taken alive

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- By killing Odai and Qusai Hussein instead of capturing them, U.S. forces may have lost a chance to expose the inner workings of Saddam's regime, provide clues to the dictator's whereabouts and yield intelligence on anti-American guerrilla operations.

But troops faced a fusillade of gunfire from the holdouts and may have feared that sympathetic crowds would rally to defend the besieged sons, who might not have revealed key information under interrogation anyway.

Beyond that, the brothers' deaths removed a chance to learn where they had hidden hundreds of millions of dollars and where their father stashed billions during his 23-year rule.

On the streets of Baghdad, where gunfire broke out in celebration of the deaths, residents said Wednesday they wished American forces had captured Odai and Qusai alive -- ready to stand trial, face their victims and suffer punishment for the horrors they inflicted on Iraq.

"We are happy for this, but we hoped that they would have been captured instead of killed so that they could have been tried by the Iraqi people," said Jassim Jabar, a 22-year-old tailor. "I hope Saddam will face the same fate soon."

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, coalition commander in Iraq, rejected criticism of the raid.

"I would never consider this a failure," Sanchez told a news conference Wednesday. "Our mission is to find, kill or capture. In this case, we had an enemy that was defending, it was barricaded and we had to take the measures that were necessary to neutralize the target."

Sanchez said the four men in a suburban villa in the northern city of Mosul -- the two brothers, an unidentified man believed to be a bodyguard and a teenager reported to be a son of Qusai -- held out in a fortified section of the house, repelling the U.S. attack with AK-47 automatic rifles.

By his account, the confrontation began when a U.S. interpreter used a bullhorn to demand they surrender. A hail of gunfire answered. Troops rushed the building, and four were wounded racing to the second floor. They withdrew, and the wounded were evacuated by helicopter.

But with the villa now sealed on every side by 200 troops, Sanchez said, the forces pulled back to wait while Kiowa attack helicopters were in place overhead. There was no fear the brothers would escape, and the Americans reassembled deliberately.

So why not wait longer, use tear gas, set up a siege, Sanchez was asked. He responded with visible irritation. Waiting the brothers out had been considered, he said, "but we chose the course of action that we took." He refused to take a follow-up question from the reporter.

L. Paul Bremer, Washington's top official in Iraq, suggested he didn't care whether Saddam, his sons or others on the American most-wanted list were taken dead or alive.

"The sooner we can either kill him or capture him, the better," Bremer said when asked during a "Meet the Press" appearance Sunday.

Some experts disagreed.

"If the Americans captured Odai and Qusai, they would have known all about the old regime, all about the weapons of mass destruction and resistance groups," said Fouad Allam, an Egyptian terrorism expert. "Above all, they would have answered the question: 'Where is Saddam?"'

Qusai, groomed to succeed his father, ran the Special Republican Guard and his father's personal protection service. Odai headed the Saddam Fedayeen, the militia that fought U.S.-led forces as they advanced on and took Baghdad on April 9.

The U.S. military says former members of the Fedayeen, the Special Republican Guard and intelligence services are behind the guerrilla-war style ambushes that have picked off American forces one by one since President Bush declared major fighting over May 1.

On the other hand, said Jonathan Stevenson, a senior counterterrorism fellow at London's International Institute of Strategic Studies, Saddam's sons may have known very little. On balance, he suggested, killing them may have provided the Americans more propaganda gain than information loss.

"The value of keeping alive the two sons was probably rated low, while the value of killing them, with its potential power to galvanize the larger population's confidence in the Americans to furnish security, was probably rated as high," said Stevenson, an American.

Ahmad Chalabi, a delegate from Iraq's new Governing Council, said the deaths were "a devastating blow to Saddam and will accelerate his capture."

"The fact that they are dead, killed by U.S. forces in a house where they resisted, is ... an enormous boost to the morale of the Iraqi people and provides some indication that the crimes they have committed are finally answered by their deaths," Chalabi added.

"These deaths are another significant sign, a milestone, on the road to persuade the Iraqi people that Saddam is gone forever."

Still, Chalabi added that he thinks it would be better for Iraqis if Saddam himself were "captured alive and answers for his crimes."

Iraq's 25-member Governing Council said the brothers should have been captured, not killed. The council, hand-picked by Bremer, couched its opinion in diplomatic language, saying the interim Iraqi authority "would have liked for them to be arrested" to stand trial and confess their crimes.

In past forced regime changes, as in the case of Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic, justice for former leaders has crept along in international tribunals. In Iraq, the successor regime is believed determined to try the former leadership at home.

Many in the Arab world are probably glad the two are dead and not behind bars awaiting trial, which could have caused untold damage to many prominent politicians, intellectuals and artists believed to have benefited from the largesse of Saddam and his sons. Their standing in the dock would have sent a deep chill through other Middle East dictatorships, especially in Syria and Saudi Arabia.


Associated Press Writers Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin, Ireland, and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.