MOSUL, Iraq – An Iraqi with ties to Saddam Hussein (search) is blamed by neighbors for tipping off coalition forces that the ousted Iraqi leader's sons Uday and Qusay were staying with him and his family.
If true — and American officials won't say — Sheik Nawaf al-Zaydan Muhhamad (search) will suddenly be $30 million richer. In any case, he's already become an outcast in his neighborhood.
The U.S. occupation administration had offered $15 million each for information leading to Saddam's wanted sons and $25 million for Saddam.
In retrospect, neighbors said, they became suspicious of the sheik when his wife and their four daughters left the house at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday and never returned.
"There is a big question mark there, did they know something would happen, or was it a coincidence?" asked Ahmed Hazim, 37, who lives around the corner from Muhhamad's three-story villa on Shalalat Street. The massive pillars holding up the front facade now stand charred and crumbling after Tuesday's shootout.
Three hours after the women left, U.S. troops walked up to the front door, knocked and asked all those inside to come out. Muhhamad and his only son, Shalan, left with their hands on their heads, neighbors said. Coalition forces took them away.
After that, U.S. troops called over loudspeakers at 10-minute intervals for anyone else to come out. "Surrender yourselves or face harsh military action," came the words in Arabic, Hazim said.
Those who had barricaded themselves inside responded with gunfire from the upper floors, witnesses and neighbors said.
"It began as gunfire and then it became a battle," said Nasser Hazim, Ahmed Hazim's brother. More troops arrived, until there were more than 200 around the house and in the area. Then the Kiowa helicopters (search) came. "They mowed everything down," Nasser Hazim said.
Six hours after the operation began, the bodies of Uday, Qusay and two others were carried out.
And what of the man who harbored them? An American commander said the person who tipped off U.S. forces was in protective custody in Iraq. When asked why, Col. Joe Anderson, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (search), said: "People know who owns the house, so that's a factor." He refused to say whether the tipster and the villa's owner were the same person.
Muhhamad was always open about his ties to Saddam, neighbors said, and that had caused tension right along. Iraqis said Muhhamad was Saddam's cousin. But Ahmad Chalabi (search), a delegate from Iraq's Governing Council (search) and longtime opponent of Saddam, said the former Iraqi dictator's tribe had always denied that.
Apparently, Muhhamad's ties to Saddam cut two ways — making him rich, but causing him personal grief. Saddam threw Muhhamad's elder brother in jail, reportedly over a tribal disagreement, but released him 18 months into a 17-year sentence.
Nasser Hazim said he drove his orange and white cab past Muhhamad's house at least four times a day over the past few weeks. He said he didn't suspect anything untoward. No fancy cars parked outside or luxury goods being carried in.
Uday had a liking for flashy cars, alcohol and women. And that was perhaps the most perplexing thing for most of Muhhamad's neighbors, who still can't believe the brothers sought refuge there.
"Can you believe that Uday — Uday," he stressed, "would go from living in a palace to living in a house like that?" asked Mohammed Abdullah, a neighbor. "I still can't believe we were neighbors!"
Muhhamad's family used to sit outside on hot nights, but they rarely had visitors. Neighbors did not see anything unusual, no surprising comings or goings, nor overly heavy security. Muhhamad had moved to Mosul from Tikrit, Saddam's home town, Ahmed Hazim said, so the family did not know many of their neighbors.
While the coalition would not say who tipped them off, neighbors said they were certain, and not happy.
"They (Uday and Qusay) are Iraqi people," said Waad Hamadi, 43, another neighbor. "We would not have told the Americans. Many people say he (Muhhamad) is the one, but there is no way he can come back here now. He is a traitor."