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Iraq Executes Two of Saddam's Co-Defendants

The threat of new violence in Iraq increased this week following the execution of two former top aides to Saddam Hussein. There was no raucous spectacle at Monday's hangings, as there was when Saddam was killed last month. In southern Iraq, convoys carrying military supplies streamed across the border from Kuwait, just days after President Bush announced plans to send a "surge" of new troops into the war zone.

Heavily armored vehicles escorted U.S. military tankers and supply trucks crossing the border from Kuwait into the southern province of Basra. The convoy is believed to be part of the Bush administration's strategy to send 21,000 additional troops to Iraq.

Despite strong opposition from Democratic Party members and some Republicans in Congress, James Phillips, a Middle East expert at the Heritage Foundation, says the strategy might succeed if it reduces the level of violence in Baghdad. "If that security situation is improved, even if it's not 100 percent, normal everyday people will appreciate that, and will look more to the Iraqi government for security and less to the militias, which increasingly are involved in tit-for-tat attacks."

But analysts warn the gruesome double hanging of two of Saddam Hussein's former top aides could spark new attacks. Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam's half brother, was decapitated during the hanging.

Iraqi authorities showed reporters video of the execution as evidence that Barzan was not mistreated, but they say the pictures will not be shown to a wider audience.

Iraq's Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi had made last-minute appeals to delay the executions. "Definitely this is, I consider, another bad day for the national reconciliation project."

In the United States, public debate about the situation in Iraq has shifted toward neighboring Iran's alleged role in fueling sectarian violence.

Vice President Cheney declared Iran a growing and multi-faceted threat (this week), and the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, says Tehran's "meddling" is unacceptable: "We intend to deal with it by interdicting and disrupting activities in Iraq, sponsored by Iran, that are putting our troops and Iraqis at risk."

The war in Iraq continues to dominate the political landscape in the U.S. Senator John McCain, a Republican presidential hopeful and outspoken supporter of sending more troops to Iraq, is staking his political future on the outcome of the war. "I do have ambitions, but they pale in comparison to what I think is most important to our nation's security. If it destroys any ambitions I may have, I am willing to pay that price gladly."

If the surge of additional troops in Iraq fails, analysts say it could have major implications on the presidential aspirations of some candidates.