A sleek Mercedes- Benz stood in the underground garage along with a pool of blood. A panoply of rifles and pistols lay strewn in the three-story mansion in Mosul where Saddam Hussein's two sons and associates held out during a desperate, four-hour firefight on Tuesday.
In the end, it took almost all the firepower the Army could muster - TOW missiles, Kiowa helicopter rockets, and Mark-19 grenade launchers - to punch through the fortress-like inner walls of the villa and kill Uday Hussein and his brother, Qusay, according to US soldiers who took part in the fight. Two other Iraqis, not yet identified, were also killed, and four Americans took gunshot wounds. A government official told the Monitor that one of the slain Iraqis was Qusay's teenaged son.
The gun battle was followed by a tense calm Wednesday in Mosul, where graffiti painted in red on earthen brick walls declares "Down with America" and "God, Country, Saddam." US soldiers and Iraqi trainees armed with wooden baseball bats secured the gutted house behind a ring of concertina wire, as military investigators combed the premises.
Some residents of this northern Iraqi city of 2 million, home to many former high-ranking Iraqi military officers, say they aren't convinced the Hussein heirs are dead. Others mourned a young man they say was killed when a US soldier opened fire on a small group of protesters during the assault, a claim American commanders dispute. Still others believe and welcome the news, saying Uday and Qusay's fate should stand as a warning to future Iraqi leaders.
For their part, US soldiers voiced pride in a successful mission, but also expressed concern that the sons' demise could lead to revenge attacks on American troops. "I think it's a great thing that happened, but the consequences could go either way - good or bad," says Spc. Tyler Springstead of the 101st Airborne Division.
"If they revolt, they revolt," says Pfc. Patrick Mullen, who stood guard all night and all day outside the charred and hollow villa. Some Iraqis may try to make martyrs of the sons, says another soldier.
The dramatic assault, triggered by a tip from an informant on Monday, began at about 9:00 a.m. Tuesday.
Elite soldiers of Task Force 20, including the Army's Delta Force operatives, swiftly moved into assault positions while infantry from the 101st Airborne division set up a cordon around the villa to stop anyone from escaping.
About 10 a.m., American forces issued a demand for surrender through a bullhorn. But that was immediately answered by a barrage of machine-gun fire from inside the house. At that point, "things just went ballistic," said one participant. "Those guys put up a massive fight."
Using C-4 explosives, Task Force 20 members stormed through the iron front gate - the only viable entrance to the walled compound, participants said. From there, some began clearing the first floor, while others climbed back stairs and crossed the roof for other entry points.
Inside, however, the Delta troops were unable to break through inner walls of reinforced concrete where Uday, Qusay, and other defenders were holed up. Eventually, they pulled back, and the 101st pummeled the structure with multiple barrages of TOW wire-guided missiles, fire from Mark 19 grenade launchers, and Humvee-mounted .50-caliber machine guns, as well as 2.75-inch rockets from Kiowa helicopters.
Drama in the streets
Meanwhile, on surrounding streets, a crowd estimated at several thousand Iraqi civilians had gathered to watch the unfolding drama and refused to disperse. "They were eating, drinking, cheering - these people are so ingrained to combat they don't have the good sense to get out of the way," says a soldier who witnessed the scene.
Then, above the crowd across the street from the villa, two snipers opened fire on US forces from the second-story, corner window of a building with a pink facade, according soldiers involved in the raid. When US soldiers returned fire, the civilians there ran away, but later returned. One US soldier, a driver for the assault team, was shot in the arm and through the chest and evacuated.
It was not until about 3:00 p.m. that US commanders called a cease-fire, and afterwards Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, surveyed the scene.
Guns, body parts, and a kilogram of mercury - used as a trigger switch for homemade bombs - were among the debris, a witness said. The bodies were removed quickly and taken to the Baghdad International Airport base of US forces in order to begin the process of identification, reported the Associated Press.
The top US ground force commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, said in a Baghdad press conference Wednesday that dental records, X-rays, and four former senior members of the Hussein regime helped establish with certainty that the two sons were dead.
As news of the deaths spread through Baghdad Tuesday night, the city erupted in a prolonged burst of celebratory gunfire.
The Americans and Iraqis give differing accounts of a protest that unfolded during the assault. US soldiers say there was a protest down the street from the villa, and that when fire came at them from the crowd at least one US military policeman returned fire and the group dispersed.
The top US ground force commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, said Wednesday that, "We know of no collateral damage that occurred as a result of the operation."
Yet Iraqi witnesses say the protesters, estimated to number from 20 to 40 people, were shouting "God is great" and pressing forward when Americans pushed them back using their rifle butts. Then one soldier shot into the crowd without firing warning shots, they claim, killing a man named Anas Basil. A man who said he is the victim's brother held up what he said were the victim's photograph and bloodied shirt and pants. "This is American freedom," he said, pointing to what he claimed was a bloodstain on the road at the intersection where the clash took place.
Bullets flew into nearby houses, in one case passing through a pillow and wooden bed into the wall, while the force of blasts from munitions shattered windows and left Iraqi residents terrified. "I ran here and there, still I am afraid," said a woman who was alone in the house next door with her three children.
Another neighbor, Kifah Mahmood, said he had noticed more cars visiting outside the villa, which he said is owned by a Hussein relative, over the past two or three weeks. He said the owner of the house used to relax in chairs outside on the sidewalk, but lately had taken to talking to people from behind the villa wall. [Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly identified a neighbor.]