Two days after the deaths of Saddam Hussein's two sons, American casualties in Iraq continue to mount, despite the Bush administration's assertion that the killing of the two most-wanted men in Iraq after Saddam himself, would mark a turning point in the post-war period. The U.S. military has released post-mortem photos of the sons, Uday and Qusay, hoping skeptical Iraqis will now be convinced that both are dead.
Happy Iraqis react to TV news broadcasts showing the gruesome photos of the bruised and bloodied bodies of the two men who had been among the most feared people in Iraq, after their father, Saddam Hussein.
But there's lingering skepticism among other Iraqis about whether these really are the corpses of Saddam Hussein's sons, Qusay and Uday, even though the U.S. military - after initially withholding them - decided to release the photos, to reassure Iraqis beyond a doubt that two people responsible for countless deaths were now dead.
President Bush believes going public with the photos will finally put to rest concerns among Iraqis that the regime of Saddam Hussein could return to power.
"Now more than ever, the Iraqis can know that the former regime is gone and is not coming back," he said.
But at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld faced repeated questions about whether the decision to release the photos was the right one, brushing aside concern that doing so could inflame passions among Iraqis who may still be supportive of the old regime or resentful of the American military presence.
"I honestly believe that these two are particularly bad characters and that it's important for the Iraqi people to see them, to know they're gone, to know they're dead and to know they're not coming back and I think that will save American lives and save coalition lives and be a great benefit to the Iraqi people to be free of that," he said. "And I feel it was the right decision and I'm glad I made it."
But the release of the photos has not stopped attacks on American soldiers yet. U.S. Army spokeswoman Nicole Thompson says a convoy of the 101st Airborne was attacked with small arms and rocket propelled grenades near Mosul, the same city where Saddam's sons died in a shoot-out with American forces.
"During this attack, three solders from the 101st were killed," she said.
And, Saddam biographer Con Coughlin warns hostility toward coalition forces will likely continue as long as loyalists to the old regime believe the ousted Iraqi leader is able to continue operating in the shadows.
"Saddam is still there in the background and so long as the Iraqi people think or fear that Saddam can make a comeback, they are going to be very reluctant to cooperate with the coalition forces," he said.
The whereabouts of Saddam Hussein remain a mystery. The CIA said Thursday that another audio tape that surfaced earlier this week in which someone claiming to be the ousted Iraqi leader is urging his countrymen to rise up against coalition forces was likely that of Saddam.
Still, the news of the deaths of his two sons has, for the moment at least, provided the White House with what most certainly will be viewed within the administration as a welcome break from what had been two weeks of daily questioning and criticism about whether President Bush misrepresented the Iraqi weapons threat in his January State of the Union address. Even so, Vice President Dick Cheney was out making the case again Thursday that all U.S. intelligence before the war pointed to an Iraqi nuclear, chemical and biological threat that could not be ignored.
"Knowing these things, how could we, I ask, have allowed that threat to stand? These judgments were not lightly arrived at and all who were aware of them bore a heavy responsibility for the security of America," he said.
But to date, no weapons of mass destruction have been found by coalition troops in Iraq.