Hoping to convince wary Iraqis that Saddam Hussein's eldest sons had been killed, the US military on Thursday released photos of the corpses of Uday and Qusay Hussein.
The photos were released as coalition forces were warned to expect an increase in the attacks that have killed numerous soldiers- including three on Thursday who died when their convoy was hit by gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades in northern Iraq.
The two photos showed the men from the chest up- one on bloody white sheets, the other in what appeared to be a body bag- with blood caked on their faces. Both men, with heavy beards, had their eyes closed, the lids darkly bruised.
One appeared to have a gash across his blood-splattered face and contusions on his forehead.
Photos of Saddam's Dead Sons Released
In addition to the photos, the military released photos of Uday and Qusay when they were alive for comparison and X-rays of Uday, who was injured in a leg in an assassination attempt in the 1990s.
The release of the photographs was a move by the military to convince skeptical Iraqis that the feared brothers were dead. Many Iraqis, especially Saddam supporters, believed the story of the brothers' killing was concocted by the US military to demoralize opponents of their occupation of the country.
US President Bush hailed the deaths of Saddam's sons. "The careers of two of the regime's ... henchmen came to an end,"Bush said Thursday. "Now more than ever, the Iraqis can know that the former regime is gone and is not coming back."
But some Iraqis remained skeptical of the authenticity of the photos.
"I'm not convinced the pictures shown are of Uday and Qusay, and even if they were, I'm not happy. I would have been happy if they were captured alive and brought to justice before the Iraqi people,"said Shant Agob, 37, an accountant who saw the photos broadcast.
While some in the Arab world criticized the United States for releasing what they believed to be fake photographs, others argued that even if they were authentic, releasing them violated standards the United States itself had championed.
"When Iraq broadcast photos of dead American soldiers, the US considered that against human rights,"said Jordanian political analyst Sahar al-Qassem. "So, why are they violating that now by showing such inhumane pictures?"
A military spokesman said journalists would be allowed to film the bodies for themselves Friday to dispel any doubts the photos were authentic.
CRITICISM OF PHOTO RELEASE
While some in the Arab world criticized the United States for releasing what they believed to be fake photographs, others argued that even if they were authentic, releasing them violated standards the US itself had championed.
"When Iraq broadcast photos of dead American soldiers, the US considered that against human rights,"said Jordanian political analyst Sahar al-Qassem said. "So, why are they violating that now by showing such inhumane pictures?"
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld defended the decision at a Pentagon briefing, saying, "This is an unusual situation. This regime has been in power for decades. These two individuals were particularly vicious individuals. ... They are now dead. ... The Iraqi people have been waiting for confirmation of that, and they in my view deserve having confirmation of that."
Middle East television stations, magazines and newspapers regularly carry images of the dead and dying - often Arab victims of Israeli-Palestinian clashes - that are more graphic than photographs carried in US media. Saudi Arabia and Iran occasionally publicly execute criminals, saying Islam allows such displays as a deterrent.
Vice President Dick Cheney used the release of the photos to bolster the administration's defense of war against Iraq.
Had the Bush administration not acted, Saddam and his sons would still be in power, torture chambers would still exist, mass graves would still be undiscovered, terrorists would still have a safe haven in Iraq and Saddam would still have vast wealth to finance weapons programs, he said Thursday.
"Knowing these things,"Cheney said, "how could we, I ask, have allowed that threat to stand? These judgments were not lightly arrived at. And all who were aware of them bore a heavy responsibility for the security of America."
Ignoring threats posed by Saddam would have been "irresponsible in the extreme,"Cheney said.
Soldiers are still dying in Iraq, and the administration is on the defensive about its justification for going to war.
L. Paul Bremer, the US administrator of Iraq, told a Pentagon news conference Thursday that the deaths of Saddam's sons "will in fact in time help reduce the security threat to our forces."
"In the initial period I would not be surprised to see an uptick in violence against our forces,"he said, but in the long run the deaths would likely encourage Iraqis to give authorities tips about other members of the Baath Party.
The threat of more attacks on US troops came in a videotape aired by Arab satellite broadcaster al-Arabiya. One of three masked men claiming to be with the Saddam Fedayeen vowed revenge for the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein.
"We want to say to the occupation forces: They said last night that killing Uday and Qusay will diminish (resistance) attacks, but we want to say to them that their death will increase attacks against them,"one of the men read from a statement.
The Fedayeen militia was once led by Uday. Coalition officials have repeatedly blamed former militia members for some of the attacks on US soldiers.
The statement did not refer to the latest attack, in which three soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were killed Thursday. They were traveling in a convoy toward Qayyarah, 186 miles north Baghdad, when they were at attacked, said Spc. Nicole Thompson.
No soldiers were wounded, and it wasn't known if any of the assailants was killed or wounded, she said. A pair of rocket-propelled grenades and an AK-47 rifle were later found.
The 101st participated in Tuesday's raid on a house in Mosul where Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay were killed, along with a bodyguard and a teenager believed to be Qusay's son.
The soldiers' deaths brought to 158 the number of US service members killed in action since the war began March 20, surpassing by 11 the death toll in the 1991 Gulf War.
Uday and Qusay were Nos. 2 and 3 on the US list of 55 most-wanted members of Saddam's regime.
So far, two-thirds of the most-wanted Iraqis are in custody or dead, but Saddam himself is thought to be alive and in hiding.
Uday, 39, and Qusay, 37, were second only to their father in power in the ousted regime.
NBC News correspondent Richard Engel was among the first to view the photos, and said the men appeared to have tried to disguise their identities, partly by growing long beards and, in the case of the man identified as Uday, shaving his head.
VOICE ON TAPE LIKELY SADDAM'S
Meanwhile, the CIA has concluded that the voice on an audiotape that surfaced earlier this week urging Iraq's former soldiers to rise up against the United States is likely that of Saddam, a US official said Thursday.
The technical analysis conducted by the CIA adds to a growing body of evidence that has led US intelligence to suspect the Iraqi dictator survived the US-led war that ousted him from power.
"Although it cannot be determined with absolute certainty, the CIA's assessment after a technical analysis of the tape is that it is likely Saddam's Hussein's voice,"said the official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.
The voice on the audiotape urges Iraqis to fight occupying US forces, saying the war was not over.
"Our will will not surrender and won't be defeated. The battle is not over yet,"said the tape, which was addressed to Iraqi armed forces.