Using the same technology that helped identify many victims of the World Trade Center attack, forensic experts could potentially prove that Saddam Hussein was killed in the bombing of a Baghdad compound where the Iraqi leader was thought to be meeting with advisers.
The bombing Monday night was so violent that it excavated a crater 60 feet deep and broke windows 300 yards away. But with DNA analysis, even the tiniest fragment of human remains can be identified.
Hours after the blast, rescuers had already pulled two corpses out of the rubble and were still searching for more.
The most authoritative way to show that Saddam was killed in the attack would be to match remains from the site to a known sample of DNA taken from the man himself.
U.S. authorities are unlikely to have a direct blood sample from an avowed enemy, but they could still recover DNA he has left behind. For example, DNA has been extracted from hair stuck in a comb. It has also been isolated from cells deposited on toothbrushes and drinking glasses.
Given such possibilities, U.S. intelligence operatives may have already swiped a used handkerchief or some other item and analyzed it for Saddam's DNA fingerprint.
Barring a verifiable sample from the man himself, a close relative's DNA might be used to identify Hussein. But because his sons Odai and Qusai may have also been in the house, the particular relative or relatives chosen for comparison would be a significant issue.
For example, having DNA from the mother of Saddam's sons for comparison could distinguish their remains from their father's, but sampling a surviving sibling of the sons would not.
So soon after the attack, it is impossible to say whether sufficient remains can be collected to perform DNA analysis. But with at least two bodies recovered already, identification of the victims may not require sophisticated biotechnology at all.
Medical examiners have traditionally used a corpse's teeth for identification. The particular arrangement of fillings, crowns and other features combined with the spacing and number of teeth is usually enough to identify a person.
Fingerprints might also be used, especially if there are questions about whether a particular body is that of Hussein or one of his famous doubles. But just as DNA analysis requires collection of a verifiable sample, fingerprints can be used only if there is a print on file.
Given the significance of the issue, U.S. intelligence operatives could probably dig one up.