Everybody leads with the apparent deaths of Saddam Hussein’s two sons, Odai and Qusai, who were killed yesterday after a six-hour firefight with U.S. troops in northern Iraq.
According to the papers, the brothers were holed up in a “palatial residence” in the city of Mosul, located about 200 miles north of Baghdad. Reports suggest the brothers had been hiding there for about three weeks.
According to the Washington Post, a “walk-in informer” tipped off U.S. forces to the whereabouts of the two brothers on Monday night. While military officials have yet to identify the tipster—who potentially stands to receive a $30 million ($15 million for each brother) reward that had been offered for Saddam’s sons—the New York Timesand USA Today suggest they may have turned in by Nawaf al-Zaydan, who owned the home where the pair had been staying.
There are mixed reports on Zaydan’s relationship to the brothers. Described as a “wealthy businessman” by the Los Angeles Times, Zaydan is reported to have been a distant cousin of Saddam’s family who had business dealings with Odai and Qusai. Yet, the NYT alone notes that Zaydan and his brother had been jailed until last October under a Iraqi law that makes it illegal to claim to be Saddam’s relatives. They were released only after general amnesty was declared, and the paper cites “widespread belief” that Zaydan may have turned the brothers in for revenge.
Reports vary on the specifics of yesterday’s operation. According to the papers, members of the 101st Airborne Division and special operations troops descended on the Zaydan’s home early yesterday morning, where they demanded to search the house.
The WP, LAT, and USAT report that Zaydan refused and was ultimately taken into custody, while troops temporarily withdrew, returning just over an hour later. More than 300 soldiers subsequently surrounded the house, USAT says (the WP cites the number as closer to 100) and used a loudspeaker to order the occupants of the house to surrender. The response was gunfire.
According to the LAT, American troops stormed the abandoned first floor of the house but were initially unable to penetrate the “hardened” second floor, where the suspects had barricaded themselves behind bulletproof windows and other materials. Ultimately, the NYT notes, it took missiles from Kiowa helicopters to blast the second floor open and a subsequent fire eviscerated much of the structure. (Other structures in the neighborhood were unscathed, a military official proudly tells the LAT.)
Four bodies were removed from the home and taken to Baghdad for identification. The WP, citing an unnamed senior administration official, says the brothers’ remains were identified by Abid Hamid Mahmud Tikriti, Saddam’s presidential secretary and top security adviser, who was captured on June 16 and remains under interrogation. The other two bodies reportedly were those of Qusai’s 14-year-old son and a bodyguard.
Everybody cites the mixed reaction, both in Iraq and in Washington, to the killing of Saddam’s sons. The papers note that upon hearing the news of the deaths, “celebratory gunfire” erupted in the streets of Baghdad. (USAT notes that “in the confusion of gunfire” in the city, a unit of the Florida Army National Guard, believing it was coming under fire, shot a man twice in the chest and shot a girl who looked between 6 and 8 years old once in the head.) In Mosul, the mood was less celebratory, the LAT says. “Even if Saddam Hussein is dead, half of Iraqis will be Saddam Husseins,” one Iraqi tells the paper.
Meanwhile, everybody notes the glee of Bush administration officials, who expressed hope that with Saddam’s sons gone, the guerrilla-type insurgency that has erupted in Iraq might be quelled. Yet the NYT, citing cautious military officials, warns the worst may not be over, noting that the killings might set off an immediate wave of “retribution attacks.”
Back on the intelligence beat, the WP fronts and others go high with word that the White House changed its story again on how claims that Iraq attempted to obtain uranium from Africa ended up in the State of the Union address. Yesterday, Bush administration officials admitted that the CIA sent two memos to the White House in October voicing strong doubts about the uranium claim. Previously, the White House said the CIA objected only to the technical merits of the intelligence, not the general claim itself.
Stephen Hadley, a deputy to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, told reporters that he had received the memos—and even took a phone call from CIA Director George Tenet—on the issue, but he had forgotten, months later, when the assertion was included in the State of the Union address. It’s an unusual admission, the NYT notes, because Hadley is known for a “fanatical attention to detail.” Meanwhile, both memos were also sent to the Michael Gerson, the president’s chief speechwriter, and one was sent to Rice, though it’s unclear if she read it, the LAT reports. “There were a number of people who could have raised a hand” to have the passage removed, Hadley tells USAT. “And no one raised a hand.”
The LAT fronts and the WP stuffs an early look on the long-awaited congressional report looking at intelligence leading up to the 9/11 attacks. The report, set for release tomorrow, finds that the FBI was “tantalizingly close” to some of the terrorists in the months before the attacks but finds no specific evidence that officials ignored or missed warning signs that could have pointed to the attack.
An interesting piece in the LAT looks at how some FBI agents—especially those in high-cost cities like San Francisco and New York—are struggling to make ends meet. Some agents have gone into major debt, while one FBI family in Portland, Ore., qualified for food stamps. As a result, the agency is bleeding new and veteran agents, who can’t afford to work for the FBI anymore. Agents argue that base pay for new agents—about $50,000 a year in cities like Los Angeles and D.C.—should be restructured.
Finally, everybody writes up the pomp and circumstance surrounding Pfc. Jessica Lynch’s return to West Virginia yesterday. But it seems she won’t have much time for rest. The WP’s “Reliable Source” reports that Lynch is set to tell her story to former NYT reporter Rick Bragg. The book deal, according to the WP, is valued at around $1 million.