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Saddam Hussein's Sons Killed?

Aired July 22, 2003 - 15:01   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Our lead story: a possible big breakthrough in the search for the top leaders in Saddam Hussein's regime. U.S. government officials say the former Iraqi president's two sons are believed to have been killed today in a firefight with U.S. troops in northern Iraq.
Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, and our senior White House correspondent, John King, are following the story.

Jamie, let's begin with you. How confident are Pentagon officials at this point?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're trying to be very careful, because they don't want to be overconfident.

But I can tell you that there is a high degree of optimism, that they believe it's highly likely that they killed both of Saddam Hussein's older sons, as well as one of his grandsons and what appears to be a bodyguard, this after a three- to four-hour firefight in the city of Mosul, where U.S. troops, including soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division and special operation troops from Task Force 20, attacked a villa in Mosul, which supposedly belonged to a cousin of Saddam Hussein.

They initially got small-arms fire. Then they responded with escalating U.S. power, including TOW missiles at one point, and calling in helicopter support as well. The end was that four people were killed. The bodies, we're told, were pretty badly shot up, but do bear a close resemblance to Saddam Hussein's elder sons, Uday and Qusay.

What's happening now is that, we're told, the DNA samples are being -- quote -- "harvested" from the bodies. Those will be flown back to the United States, sent to the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology here in Washington, where they will be compared against samples that the United States has to help them make a positive identification.

But, at this point, the Pentagon is fairly hopeful that they have snagged the No. 2 and No. 3 most wanted in Iraq. And they're hopeful also that this could lead to also perhaps finding or getting closer to finding Saddam Hussein himself, the ace of spades in that deck of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, Jamie, this could take several days, if they have got to fly those DNA samples back to the U.S.

MCINTYRE: Well, it may be several days before they get the absolute, total information.

But, as I said, they are using various methods to try to identify the bodies, including a visual. We're told that the so-called ace of diamonds, the presidential adviser, who was taken into custody, has been providing some assistance to the United States, providing some intelligence about where the sons had been in the past. And he may also be useful in trying to identify, make a certain identification of who these two bodies are.

But they're fairly confident at this time. They just want to be extra careful that they don't say something that then turns out not to be the case.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

And now let's go quickly to the White House, where our correspondent John King is.

John, the White House must be pleased.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, behind the scenes, there is a great sense of anticipation here, a very hopeful atmosphere, that the president and the administration will quite soon be able to claim credit for reaching one of the military objectives. That is destroying the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime.

But, as Jamie noted, there is also a great sense of caution. And that caution is rooted in history. Remember, at the very beginning of the war, there were reports that Saddam Hussein himself was killed in one of those early strikes, even on the first night of the war. The war began, actually, a day early, because they thought they might have had a chance to kill Saddam Hussein.

So a sense of caution here at the White House, reflected earlier today at the press briefing, when we, of course, asked Scott McClellan what the president knew and was the president confident that Saddam's two elder sons had been killed.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not in a position at this time to confirm anything. There was a military operation earlier today. And I think that any additional updates or information about that particular raid will come from the Department of Defense. And so I think you should stay in touch with them.


KING: Again, though a public face of great caution, behind the scenes, there is a sense of anticipation, senior officials here saying it was very solid intelligence that the two sons were in that building at the time of the firefight. They say they are all but certain that it was the two sons and that they are dead. They say, though, as they await definitive word from the Pentagon, they will be careful in their public statements.

You can be sure, though, Judy, that if this turns out to be true, they will trumpet it here at the White House. It would be what they consider achieving a major objective at a time when the administration has come under considerable criticism for not having a plan to secure Iraq, accusations that it hyped the intelligence in the days leading up to the war. This would be trumpeted by this White House as a significant military accomplishment.

WOODRUFF: And I was going to say, John, this could not come at a better time for the White House, because of all those questions that are swirling around out there.

KING: And they believe, Judy, it could have a psychological effect in Iraq: one, a morale booster for those U.S. troops that are tired and are getting shot at every day; and, two, a psychological effect on everyday Iraqis who might have information about the whereabouts of others, including perhaps Saddam Hussein, or information about the weapons programs, but have simply been afraid to come forward, because they're not yet certain that the former regime won't come back.

If these two men are dead, the White House says it would send a pretty powerful signal that the days of Saddam Hussein and his sons are gone.

WOODRUFF: All right, John King, reporting from the White House.

And we do have this programming note. CNN will present a two- hour special report tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, "Target: Saddam's Sons." That is anchored by Paula Zahn and Anderson Cooper.

North of Baghdad today, another deadly ambush for American troops: A U.S. soldier was killed and another wounded along a dangerous road in the so-called Sunni Triangle. U.S. Central Command says the soldier was part of an Army convoy that came under attack by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

The U.S. Army is expected to announce tomorrow its plan to rotate troops in and out of Iraq in the coming months. Military sources tell CNN, the first troops to come home will be the two remaining brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division. They have been told that they will return home by September.


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