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Doubts linger as Iraqis view photos of Saddam's dead sons

Friday, July 25, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The United States released grisly photos Thursday to convince Iraqis that Saddam Hussein's sons were dead and to weaken support for an anti-American insurgency. But some Iraqis saw the pictures of the bloodied, bearded men as a ruse.

The photographs of Odai and Qusai Hussein were immediately broadcast by U.S.-sponsored Iraqi TV, CNN and two Arab satellite television networks widely viewed in Iraq. The Al-Sa'a newspaper held its front and back pages open to publish them Friday morning.

"This is a U.S. ploy to try to break the spirit of the resistance," said Jassim al-Robai, a computer engineer who was sharing an ice cream tart with two friends at a restaurant in Baghdad. After seeing the images, Al-Robai said he wasn't convinced that the brothers were killed in a gunbattle with U.S. soldiers.

Rumsfeld's call

At a Pentagon news conference, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said it was his decision to release photos of the dead sons and that it was "not a close call." He did, however, acknowledge that it ran counter to the U.S. military's unwritten convention of not showing images of enemy war dead.

Some in the military preferred the photos of the bloodied bodies not be publicly released, out of concern for losing the moral high ground in arguing against such treatment of U.S. war dead in future conflicts.

Rumsfeld likened the circumstance to 1989 when Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and executed.

"It was not until the people of that country saw him -- saw his body -- that they actually believed that the fear and the threat that his regime posed to them was gone," Rumsfeld said.

Washington had hoped that the deaths of Odai and Qusai would weaken the insurgency, but an attack on a convoy Thursday killed three Americans from the division that led the assault on Saddam's sons' hide-out in the northern city of Mosul.

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, said Thursday that the deaths of Saddam's sons -- and Iraqis' acceptance of this -- "will, in fact, in time help reduce the security threat to our forces."

In the long run

"I would not be surprised to see an uptick in violence against our forces," said Bremer, standing alongside Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. "But I think in the long run it will also hopefully encourage more Iraqis to come and give us information about more Baathists."

Two U.S.-military photos released Thursday showed a man identified as Qusai with bruises and blood spots around his eyes. That face was far more intact than the other, identified as Odai; the mouth was open and the teeth showing.

The face of what appeared to be Odai, the older brother, was severely bloodied. A gash ran from his left eye to the right corner of his mouth, and bruises and blood covered his bald forehead.

Both men were heavily bearded, which left some Iraqis speculating that they may have been trying to mask their identities. They have been on the run since the regime collapsed April 9.

The photos showed the upper torsos of the men, who were bare-chested -- one lying on bloody, white sheets, the other in what appeared to be a body bag.

Abbas Fadhil, a 44-year-old barbershop owner in Baghdad, said he had no doubts after seeing the pictures on Iraqi TV that the photographs were of the brothers.

"The doubts will remain because the coalition forces didn't show them from the front and the sides, didn't show their profiles," he said, adding Qusai's photograph was a perfect image of him.

Alla Khalifa, 32, a barber in the shop, said he doubted the pictures of Odai were authentic because he appeared slightly overweight.

"Odai is a tall man and thin, but the picture shows him as short and thick," he said while shaving a customer's face.

A double standard

While some in the Arab world criticized the United States for releasing what they believed were fake photographs, others argued that even if they were authentic, releasing them was wrong.

"When Iraq broadcast photos of dead American soldiers, the U.S. considered that against human rights," said Jordanian political analyst Sahar al-Qassem said. "So, why are they violating that now by showing such inhumane pictures?"

The military paired the death pictures with the brothers' images in life for comparison. Also released were X-rays of Odai's leg that was severely injured after an assassination attempt in 1996.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said X-rays, dental records and four former members of Saddam's regime had confirmed that the dead men were Saddam's sons.

Forensics experts said the photographs offered few details to make specific identifications. Conclusive evidence would need to be collected in autopsies, they said.

"These photos are not really useful for forensic identification work," said Johnnie T. Wilson, a forensics expert in the Kansas City, Mo., crime laboratory. "They don't show enough to comment on how good the work is."

Odai, 39, and Qusai, 37, were killed in a gunbattle with U.S. forces after an Iraqi informant tipped the Americans to their presence, according to the military.

The military has said the brothers and a third man, believed to have been a bodyguard, were killed Tuesday by TOW missiles fired into the villa where they were hiding. A fourth person in the house, believed to be Qusai's teenage son Mustafa, was shot to death by troops storming the house after the missiles devastated it.

An Iraqi tipster led the United States to the brothers, weeks after the military offered a $15 million reward for information leading to the capture or death of either.

The next likely issue is what to do with the remains of Odai and Qusai.

A U.S. official with the civilian administration running the country said the group was consulting with the Governing Council of Iraq on how to bury the bodies. According to Islamic tradition, Muslims must be buried as soon as possible after their deaths.


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