The search for former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein gained fresh impetus yesterday after US soldiers killed his two sons Uday and Qusay in a fierce six-hour battle with machineguns and rockets at a villa in northern Iraq.
Celebratory shots rang out in Baghdad, but sceptical Iraqis said they wanted proof of the deaths.
Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground forces in Iraq, said he would provide evidence to show beyond doubt that the two men had been killed when 200 soldiers backed up by helicopters attacked the villa in Mosul on Tuesday.
He told a news conference late on Tuesday that the deaths of Uday and Qusay -- tracked down after a tip-off from a walk-in informant who stands to gain at least some of the two US$15 million rewards for information on their whereabouts -- showed that Saddam himself could not hide forever.
"It confirms that we will succeed in our hunt for former regime members, and in particular Saddam Hussein, wherever they are and however long it takes," he said.
Sanchez said the killings of Uday, 39, and Qusay, two years younger, would also deal a blow to guerrillas who have staged a wave of attacks and ambushes on US forces in Iraq, claiming the lives of 39 American soldiers since President George W. Bush declared major combat over on May 1.
Paul Bremer, the US administrator of Iraq, said there was a risk of revenge attacks by Saddam loyalists.
"We could see attacks in the next few days as revenge. But you have to remember that a lot of the attacks that are taking place are being based on the idea that somehow the Saddams are coming back, that he and his sons are coming back," he said.
"Well, they're not coming back. But now two of them are dead. It won't be long before we get the father," he said.
The US has offered US$25 million for information leading to the capture or killing of Saddam.
"I think we now have a possibility of somebody coming with the big one, somebody who really wants to get the US$25 million reward," said Bremer, on a visit to the US. "It will move the day a bit closer when we get our hands on the father."
Many Iraqis still doubted Saddam's sons were dead.
"I don't believe they are dead because Saddam would never let his sons travel together," said Nasheet Chalabi, who owns a grocery shop in Mosul.
US officials have blamed die-hard Saddam loyalists for the guerrilla insurgency against American forces.
But other groups have also claimed responsibility for the attacks, distancing themselves from Saddam's secular Iraqi nationalism and embracing the Islamist, anti-American slogans of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
A leading pro-US Iraqi politician said Qusay was behind many of the attacks on US troops. "He was in charge of the network that was causing a great deal of the trouble," Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, told reporters.
"This is very important. This will contribute considerably to reducing attacks on coalition soldiers," he said in New York. "Both of those characters are hated figures in Iraq."
But Wamidh Nazmi, a political science professor at Baghdad University, said the killings would not end guerrilla attacks.
"I do not think that Saddam and his two sons are a very important part of the resistance ... and if they have any role it is a minimal one," he said. "So I don't think the deaths of the sons ... will affect the resistance, nor even the death of Saddam himself."