Bush administration officials say the deaths of Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, could be a turning point in the campaign to destroy the remnants of the regime that continue to attack coalition troops in Iraq.
In Baghdad, the first order of business was convincing Iraqis that Saddam's sons are in fact dead.
U.S. Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez told reporters in Baghdad that four former regime members identified the bodies recovered after Tuesday's firefight with coalition troops.
General Sanchez also said x-rays and dental records were used to verify the identities. "For Uday, the match was 90 percent and this was limited only because injuries to the teeth made a perfect match impossible. For Qusay, the dental match was a 100 percent certainty. Autopsies will follow, but we have no doubt that we have the bodies of Uday and Qusay," he said.
General Sanchez did not offer photographs or other physical evidence. But he says proof will be provided in due time.
General Sanchez also said he believes the deaths of Saddam's sons will be a turning point in the effort to wipe out the remaining insurgents attacking coalition troops.
That view was echoed at the White House in Washington where President Bush promised that those who oppose the new Iraq will be hunted down and destroyed. "Saddam Hussein's sons were responsible for torture, maiming and murder of countless Iraqis. Now more than ever, all Iraqis can know that the former regime is gone and will not be coming back," Mr. Bush said.
At the defense department, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz briefed reporters on his recent visit to Iraq. He said most Iraqis are grateful for their liberation. But he also said there remains what he calls a "pervasive fear of the old regime" among many Iraqis.
"The Iraqi people want to build a free, secure and democratic future. But to do so, we need to remove the blanket of fear that still covers them. Yesterday's events help enormously in that regard," Mr. Wolfowitz said.
News of the demise of Saddam's sons was also welcomed in London. British foreign secretary Jack Straw told British radio that Saddam Hussein and his family should have taken advantage of earlier opportunities to go into exile.
"I'm not rejoicing. I mourn the death of anybody. But it has to be said that it is a very great relief for all Iraqis. And I may say that Uday and Qusay, along with their father, were given opportunities to remain alive that they never gave a lot of their victims," Mr. Straw said.
The deaths of Saddam's sons is some of the best news from Iraq in weeks and could boost the public's perception of the nation-building effort.
Although President Bush's public approval rating has remained fairly high in recent months, some recent surveys have indicated a growing unease among the public over the prospects for a long occupation of Iraq and the likelihood of more American casualties.