| Clan members pray over the graves of Uday and Qusay Hussein in the northern Iraqi town of Ouja near Tikrit. (Reuters)
Tikrit, Aug. 2 (Reuters): Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay were buried today in a rushed funeral at a dusty cemetery, as US soldiers scoured the surrounding countryside and villages for the fugitive dictator himself.
Two graves were dug in the sun-baked earth in Awja, the village where Saddam was born on the outskirts of Tikrit. As gusts of wind whipped up clouds of dust, tribal elders covered the bodies with Iraqi flags and heaped stones on the graves.
A cleric in a white robe intoned prayers as around 40 tribesman stood by the graveside. One man knelt down to kiss one of the graves. Mahmoud al-Nada, an elder of the Beijat tribal group that includes Saddam’s family, led the mourners.
Uday and Qusay were killed on July 22 when US troops attacked their hideout in the northern city of Mosul with grenades, heavy machineguns, rockets and anti-tank missiles. Qusay’s son Mustafa and Uday’s bodyguard were also killed.
US officers said they hoped the killing of the brothers would demoralise guerrillas mounting daily ambushes on US troops. But there has been no let-up in attacks.
A US army spokesman said one soldier was killed and three wounded in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a 4th Infantry Division convoy in northern Iraq late yesterday. The ambush brought to 53 the number of US soldiers killed in hostile action since Washington declared major combat over on May 1.
The army also said a 101st Airborne Division soldier was wounded in a grenade attack near Tall Afar, west of Mosul.
A US officer confirmed that Uday and Qusay’s bodies had been handed over to the Iraqi Red Crescent and later buried.
Muslim custom stipulates that bodies must be buried as soon as possible after death. But US officials, anxious to avoid the graves becoming a shrine, delayed the burial while they consulted prominent Iraqis on what to do with the corpses.
Some locals in Tikrit, a stronghold of support for Saddam, said they regarded the dead brothers as marytrs. “They are the heroes of Iraq,” one said.
US troops have mounted several raids in Tikrit over the past week, searching for Saddam and his top lieutenants. Officers say the net is closing on the deposed president. In the latest raid last night, soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division, 1st Brigade, swooped on a house in Tikrit and seized a man suspected of organising guerrilla attacks.
“The individual that we were targeting tonight we believe is involved in organising attacks on US forces, in moving arms for these attacks, and also providing security for members of the regime,” Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, said at the scene.
The raid involved several US units, including two helicopters and soldiers equipped with night vision gear. The suspect was led away in plastic handcuffs, blindfolded, and driven off in the back of a truck for interrogation.
Yesterday afternoon, two other Saddam loyalists were detained near Tikrit, 170 km north of Baghdad, officers said. They were the latest of “scores” of such figures, some quite senior, detained in raids this week.
Colonel James Hickey, commander of the 1st Brigade, said it was “absolutely possible” that Saddam was hiding around Tikrit. “We’re acting on the assumption he could very well be here,” he said during a night patrol that he said was part of an offensive campaign against anti-US resistance.
“If he is here, we will get him,” he said. “I am prepared to kill or capture any high-ranking member of the regime.”
But despite a $25 million price on his head, Saddam has yet to be found. Taped messages said to have been recorded by the deposed president have been aired on Arab television networks, exhorting Iraqis to fight a holy war to expel occupying troops. CIA officials say the most recent tapes, broadcast on Tuesday and yesterday, are probably genuine.