WASHINGTON – The deaths of Saddam Hussein's (search) sons may help convince Iraqis their former president won't return but deprives U.S. intelligence of key sources of information about their father's whereabouts and weapons programs.
"Because of their demise, people will begin to see there is no going back, that the old regime is symbolically over," said Edward S. Walker, a former ambassador to the region and president of the Middle East Institute (search) in Washington. "It would be far better if we had Saddam Hussein's head. But this is a step forward."
Brutal, flamboyant Uday, 39, and equally brutal but quiet Qusay, 37, were sprung from their hiding place in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul (search) on Tuesday. They perished with two others in a hail of weapons fire from the 101st Airborne Division (search) and other U.S. forces, according to the U.S. military.
"It's the next best thing to getting Saddam himself," said Geoffrey Kemp, a former National Security Council (search) specialist on Iraq.
But Iraqis will want more proof than the word of U.S. officials, he said. "The more specific the U.S. can be in producing the corpses and letting people look at them, the more likely it will be accepted for real."
Before the war, the sons were second and third only to Saddam in power in Iraq. U.S. intelligence believed Qusay was to succeed Saddam.
"I was pleased to learn that these two brutal members of Saddam's regime are no longer a threat," Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said in a statement. "The Iraqi people are safer today. We will pursue the other members of his murderous regime wherever they might be hiding."
Intelligence officials said it was unclear whether the two were involved in managing the guerrilla war against U.S. forces occupying central Iraq or were simply on the run.
Both sons commanded security forces before the war, elements of which are still fighting. Uday ran the militia called Saddam's Fedayeen (search); Qusay ran the Special Security Organization (search), Iraq's premier internal security agency.
High-level Iraqi prisoners have said that Saddam, Qusay and Uday split up after the war began to ensure the family's survival, U.S. officials said. But at some point, the sons found one another.
Officials had no evidence their father was with them. Officials have become increasingly certain he survived the war. Last week, U.S. intelligence officials said they believed a voice on a new audio message referring to recent events in Iraq was probably his.
Intelligence officials also said Saddam has always been better at avoiding detection than his sons.
A senior U.S. official said that American military personnel were watching the two brothers for the last few days, hoping intelligence experts could pick up a conversation with their father. It didn't happen, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Their deaths, as opposed to their arrests, forestalls any public trials as well as any violence aimed at freeing them. But it also denies the Bush administration potential intelligence on Saddam's whereabouts and on Iraq's alleged weapons programs.
"It's a pity they were not captured," Kemp said. "They would have been tried before the court of the Iraqi people and gotten their just desserts."
The timing can't hurt the Bush administration, which has faced increasing questions over whether it exaggerated information on Saddam's weapons programs to justify the war.
On Capitol Hill, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer (search), said: "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."
Republicans in Congress exulted and said Iraqis should, too.
"Imagine how Saddam Hussein feels right now — knowing that we killed his sons and are on his trail," said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo. "His days are numbered, and the Iraqi people should properly rejoice."
Sen. John McCain (search), R-Ariz., said: "Iraqis can celebrate the removal of yet another remnant of the Baathist regime that brutalized their long-suffering country."
"The frequent, dreadful discovery of mass graves containing the victims of Saddam and his family is a reminder of the justness of our cause that removed a horrible tyranny," he said.
Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle (search) of South Dakota said, however, that not enough was being done to stabilize Iraq.
"Obviously, no one can underestimate the value of the developments today, if they are found to be accurate," he said "But I would simply say that what many of us have said from the beginning is that in order to win the peace, we need more help. We need more resources, we need more personnel, we need more international involvement."