The deaths of Saddam Hussein's two "most-wanted" sons in an attack by US forces Tuesday brings a major morale boost both to US troops and to Iraqis beginning to doubt that the old regime was gone for good.
The US military said Tuesday it had confirmed that Mr. Hussein's two sons, Qusay and Uday, had been killed in a fierce gun battle in the northern city of Mosul. US forces raided a villa in the city after receiving a "walk-in" tip that the two sons were holed up there, said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez at a news conference in Baghdad. He added that the US expected to pay the $15 million reward offered for information leading to the death or capture of each of Hussein's sons.
Given the notoriety among both Iraqis and Americans of the two sons, their deaths are seen as an important boost to morale. They are also seen as a sign that the capture or killing of Hussein may not be far off. He is believed by US officials to be on the run, but possibly directing the guerrilla-style warfare coalition forces are encountering.
Hussein's sons are nationally famous; Uday, was widely feared for his well-known cruelty, and Qusay, was one of the former Iraqi regime's most trusted and influential personalities.
Their deaths are evidence that US forces "are stripping away the places where [Hussein] has been or could be hidden," says Judith Yaphe, an Iraq expert at the National Defense University in Washington. "It sends a clear message that we are here and we will get you."
That will be significant not just to the US, Ms. Yaphe adds, but perhaps more importantly to Iraqis themselves, who know and lived with the sons' rule. This "will encourage those who ... hate the [Hussein regime] but have been afraid to come out," she says. "They have been frightened that they would come back."
While no one is predicting the daily attacks on US forces will stop, some analysts say the demise of the former Iraqi leader's sons should take the wind out of the sails of the pro-Hussein forces who thought the US might be driven away.
Hours after the raid in Mosul, gunfire erupted throughout Baghdad - perhaps in celebration of the news.
"A lot of the resistance, shooting, and ambushing of US forces has been going on by Baathist [Party] and former Iraqi military under Hussein [who] thought Saddam would fight his way back into power," notes Stanley Bedlington, a retired senior analyst from the CIA's Counterterrorism Center. "The fact that Qusay and Uday have been killed ... has obviously removed that prospect. There's no doubt that this is a major blow to those who still support the Baathist regime."
Despite being the younger of Hussein's two sons, Qusay was said to be first in line to succeed his father. He oversaw Iraq's intelligence and security services, including the notorious Special Republican Guard, and in 2001 was named deputy of the Baath Party's military bureau.
Uday was instrumental in putting down threats to his father's regime. He used blackmail, torture, imprisonment, and even murder to eliminate real or perceived enemies. He ordered the killing of thousands of inmates throughout the 1990s, and put the lid on a Shiite revolt in 1997. He survived an assassination attempt by two Iraqi military officers in 1996.
The killings of Hussein's two sons also provides a much-needed boost to US intelligence circles, which have been laboring under clouds of doubt for their inability to locate either Hussein or Osama bin Laden.
Sources say that US spies have been on the trail of Hussein and his two sons, getting closer and closer in the past few weeks. Most recently, intelligence officials had been monitoring the house in Mosul where Tuesday's raid took place.
"It seems that US forces have acted on solid intelligence that some high-value targets were meeting in the Hai Fallah neighborhood of Mosul," says Hoshyar Zebari, a member of the Kurdish Democratic Party and acting member on Iraq's new governing council. "It will be a demoralizing blow to the remnants of the ex-regime who are showing some signs of continuing resistance and fighting to force the Americans to withdraw and encouraging people to stand up to the occupation."
While analysts say this is not quite the same as getting Hussein, they believe this news is already having an impact throughout the region, where opinion had started to wonder if Hussein and his regime might indeed return.
"Of course we need to get Saddam," says Mr. Bedlington, "but this is all over Al Jazeera and other Arabic networks already and it will be all around the Middle East.... To other Middle East regimes," he adds, "it will be a message that those who rule in a tyrannical manner may expect their end to come sooner or later."
Says Mr. Zebari, "I think the net is closing on Saddam."