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ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL REPORT

Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.

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Tuesday, July 22

Killing Saddam's sons good news for Bush, troops

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - Odai, the drug-using sadist, and Qusai, the merciless military commander being groomed to rule Iraq, struck almost as much terror in Iraqis as their father Saddam Hussein.

Confirmation that both sons were killed Tuesday after a firefight north of Baghdad comes as much needed good news for both Baghdad and Washington.It gives the jittery Iraqi people some proof that Saddam's tenacious regime is truly gone, and the Bush administration tangible evidence that it's making progress in a guerrilla-style war that has been taking American lives almost daily.

The information that led U.S. forces to Saddam's sons came from an Iraqi informant, indicating that Iraqis may be feeling confident enough in American troops to start passing on valuable intelligence.

``It's a great day for the Iraqi people, and a great day for our armed forces,'' Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, said after meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. ``There was astounding professionalism in this operation.''

The killing of Saddam's two sons comes amid growing worry about the war in Iraq. President Bush's overall approval rating fell below 60 percent - to 59 - for the first time since March in a USA TODAY-CNN-Gallup Poll taken last weekend. Approval of his handling of the Iraq situation fell from 76 percent in mid-April to 57 percent in the latest poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Additionally, Democrats have stepped up criticism of Bush as American combat deaths mounted in Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction were found and the whereabouts of Saddam and his sons remained unknown. A day before the dramatic gun battle that killed Saddam's sons, Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., told GNS and USA TODAY that it was clear the United States ``can win the war alone but that we cannot win the peace alone.''

Short of Saddam himself, Odai and Qusai were the two most wanted men by U.S. forces in Iraq.

Both commanded Iraq's most important and successful military units before and during the war, and may well have been trying to coordinate strikes against U.S. occupation forces afterward.

``I'm optimistic that this most recent action...will clearly reveal that once again we have been able to get the key people that are inspiring and financing and otherwise providing for this insurgency,'' said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va.

The successful attack is also an encouraging sign that American forces have tapped into some valuable intelligence that could help flush out Saddam, whom most top administration officials believe is still alive and many Iraqis fear could return to power.

Saddam's family had engineered a reign of terror that spanned decades and took as many as a million lives, according to some estimates.

Until Saddam is capture or killed, Pentagon officials have said, they fear Iraqis will be reluctant to cooperate fully with occupation forces as they look for the weapons of mass destruction Iraq reputedly had.

Feared sons

Ironically named the ace of hearts in the Pentagon's ``most wanted'' deck of cards, the 39-year-old Odai was among the most feared and loathed men in Iraq.

He was known for randomly selecting women for rape and torture and then killing their husbands if they complained.

Odai was in charge of the Iraqi media and the national Olympic committee, where he routinely meted out brutal punishments for athletes who didn't win.

He was especially hated in the south where he oversaw the execution of thousands of Shiite Iraqis who were preparing to rebel against Baghdad.

By 1996, Odai had cultivated enough hatred to ignite an assassination attempt as two gunmen ambushed his champagne-colored Porsche in Baghdad's posh al-Mansour district, pumping eight rounds into Odai's left side. Odai survived, but it left him limping on painkillers.

During the war, Odai was in charge of the Fedayeen Saddam (Saddam's ``Men of Sacrifice''), a guerrilla unit that staged some of the most successful attacks against U.S. and British forces as they advanced north.

Pentagon officials have said they suspect some of the surviving Fedayeen fighters are among the groups staging raids on U.S. and British occupation forces.

Odai was on his way to succeeding his father as Iraqi president, but his appetite for drugs, drink, women, and sadism and his repeated foul-ups prompted Saddam to favor the younger Qusai, a more stable, married father, for eventual leadership.

By the time the war started, Qusai headed Iraq's vaunted Republican Guard, which had put up some of the toughest resistance during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Disbanded Republican Guard units may also be among the insurgents now battling U.S. forces.

While Qusai didn't openly relish torture the way his brother did, he used it liberally as a state tool along with mass executions.

Saddam's whereabouts

Experts have said that if Saddam managed to escape, he probably fled north toward Tikrit where he was born and where coalition troops were spread most thinly during the war.

Tuesday's raid seems to bolster that theory.

Saddam's sons were killed some 200 miles north of Baghdad in Mosul.

According to CIA assessments of Saddam, if he is confronted the way Odai and Qusai were, he would likely go the route his sons took in their six-hour gun battle with U.S. forces.

``His dreams of glory are too great for a humiliating epitaph that headlines his imprisonment, or execution as a war criminal, or his body being ripped to shreds in Baghdad's streets,'' former CIA officer Regis Matlak wrote in a widely quoted analysis of Saddam.

Bremer said ``it's only a matter of time before we find Saddam Hussein - I hope we're a day closer.''

(Contributing: Jon Frandsen and Chuck Raasch, GNS.)