Mosul/Washington, July 22 (Reuters): US troops may have killed Saddam Hussein’s two sons Uday and Qusay in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul today in a four-hour battle at a villa, US officials said.
US forces in Iraq said they had killed four high-ranking Saddam allies. An official in Washington said the bodies were not in the best condition, but two “bear a strong resemblance to Uday and Qusay”.
“There is optimism within the ranks (that Uday and Qusay were killed),” the official said after some 200 US soldiers blasted the villa with machineguns and rockets before storming it and bringing out the four bodies.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a third body was that of a teenage boy — Qusay has a 14-year-old son who travels with him — and the fourth was that of an adult believed to have been a possible bodyguard.
Uday, 39, Saddam’s eldest son, was famed and feared throughout Iraq for his cruelty and playboy lifestyle before the Iraqi President was ousted by US-led forces on April 9. Qusay, born in 1966, was one of his father’s most trusted lieutenants.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said he could not confirm that Saddam’s sons had been killed.
“(President George W. Bush) is aware of the reports and is aware of the military operation which took place earlier today,” McClellan told reporters.
Bush had spoken to defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld but the spokesman declined to characterise the conversation.
The caution springs from earlier claims of success that later proved untrue.
Mosul residents who witnessed the raid on the villa, home to a local businessman, said there had been widespread speculation that the troops were hunting for Saddam’s sons.
US forces have been stepping up a hunt for the former Iraqi President himself, spurred on by guerrilla-style attacks on their ranks that they blame on his die-hard supporters.
Witnesses in Mosul said US soldiers were fired at by people inside the house as they approached.
“Individuals of very high interest to the coalition forces were hiding out in the building,” Lieutenant-Colonel William Bishop of the 101st Airborne Division said in Mosul.
“This morning we went to the building and surrounded it.”
Declining to comment on speculation that Saddam’s sons were the target, division spokesman Major Trey Cate said four “high-value targets” were found dead when soldiers went into the house after the battle.
A fifth Iraqi died in the fighting and at least five were hurt.
US officials say Saddam is probably still alive and hiding somewhere in Iraq. Audio tapes purported to have been made by Saddam have been given to Arab television networks, exhorting Iraqis to fight occupying US and British troops.