Three U.S. soldiers killed in Iraqi ambush
U.S. releases what it says are photos of Saddam's sons
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Three U.S. soldiers were killed Thursday in northern Iraq when small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades ambushed their convoy, according to the U.S. military.
The soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were traveling into Qayyarah, a town about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Mosul, when they were attacked about 2:30 a.m. (6:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday), military officials said.
Soldiers secured the ambush site and found two rocket-propelled grenades and an AK-47 assault rifle, according to U.S. Central Command.
Also Thursday, U.S. military officials said they had no information about eyewitness reports that two Iraqis were killed in Baghdad near a U.S. military checkpoint.
Since President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1, 44 U.S. troops have died from hostile fire, including Thursday's fatalities. Another 57 have died in accidents and what the Pentagon calls "nonhostile" incidents.
A total of 239 U.S. military personnel have been killed since the war in Iraq began in March. (Interactive: U.S. deaths as of July 24)
Assurance of deaths cited
The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq on Thursday released photos depicting what it said were the corpses of Saddam's Hussein's sons to news agencies. (Full story)
Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed Tuesday in a U.S. assault in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul after an informer tipped members of the Army's 101st Airborne Division to their location. (Saddam sons killed, Gallery: Timeline of the attack)
U.S. officials said they hope displaying the photos will convince skeptical Iraqis of the deaths and help reduce attacks on U.S. troops.
Bush said the photos provide "further assurances" of the two men's deaths.
"Saddam Hussein's sons were responsible for torture, maiming and murder of countless Iraqis," said Bush, speaking in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "Now more than ever, Iraqis can know the former regime is gone and is not coming back."
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground forces in Iraq, said earlier that the killings would deal a blow to guerrillas.
But L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator of Iraq, has admitted there was a risk of revenge attacks by Saddam loyalists.
Baghdad residents who saw the photographs seemed stunned, but many said they were convinced the brothers were dead. (Reaction in Iraq)
Troop rotation plan
War-weary U.S. troops will begin rotating out of Iraq as soon as August, the Army's vice chief of staff said Wednesday, and the U.S. troop presence in that country will begin to decline by the second half of 2004.
"First in is first out, so the 3rd [Infantry Division] is coming out in August and September," said Gen. John Keane, following a briefing with the House Armed Services Committee on Iraq.
The Army's 3rd Infantry Division was the first unit to reach Baghdad. It has sustained the most deaths of any U.S. military division in Iraq, with 37 soldiers killed in action, said a spokesman for the unit's home base at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
About 9,000 soldiers from the 3rd Infantry arrived in the Central Command region in two groups -- in September and in January. Some troops have complained bitterly that there has been no exit strategy planned for them.
Replacing the 3rd Infantry Division will be soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in a six-month-long rotation.
Keane said the overall number of U.S. troops in Iraq -- now at about 156,000 -- will begin dropping by late next year.
The last troops to be rotated out of Iraq -- in April -- would be the 173rd Airborne Brigade. That unit would not be replaced, a move that would effectively lower the number of personnel inside the country.
The Pentagon has been under pressure to put together a plan to inject fresh troops into Iraq to relieve tired and demoralized service members, who have been facing almost daily attacks since the end of major combat.
• Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday defended the coalition mission to overthrow Saddam, saying it would have been irresponsible not to take action. "It was Saddam Hussein himself that made war unavoidable," Cheney said at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Referring to the September 11 attacks, he said, "We are not going to answer further danger by simply issuing diplomatic protests or sharply worded condemnations. We will not wait in false comfort while terrorists plot against innocent Americans."
• On Wednesday, two U.S. soldiers were killed and nine wounded in separate attacks when their convoys hit explosive devices, according to the U.S. military. The attacks took place near Mosul and Ramadi, a central Iraqi town about 70 miles (110 kilometers) west of Baghdad.
• The CIA's technical assessment of the latest audiotape purported to be from Saddam Hussein -- broadcast Wednesday on the Arabic-language television network Al Arabiya -- has concluded it is "likely" the voice of the former Iraqi leader, a U.S. official told CNN Thursday. (Full story)
• Back from a four-day whirlwind tour of Iraq, the Pentagon's No. 2 civilian, Paul Wolfowitz, has admitted that many of the Bush administration's prewar assumptions were wrong. Among them: the belief that some Iraqi army units would switch sides; that Iraqi police would help maintain security; and that regime remnants would not resort to guerrilla tactics. (Full story)
CNN Correspondents Rym Brahimi, Nic Robertson, Barbara Starr and Harris Whitbeck contributed to this report.