It was 10am when the four Humvees pulled up outside the handsome villa on Shalalat Street and disgorged a party of US soldiers. Over a bullhorn, they told the occupants to come out with their hands up.
What followed was a firefight from the ground and air that reduced the comfortable villa to a smoking hulk. And only then did the troops find out how high the stakes had been: Their targets, they discovered, were Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay, second in power only to their father.
The raid was a "turning point" in the campaign against Iraq's deposed regime, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, the American commander, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, said Wednesday in Baghdad. US President George W. Bush said it would help convince Iraqis that Saddam's regime is over for good.
But soldiers who participated in the raid said they didn't know what they were getting into when they headed out to the wealthy al-Falah neighborhood in the northern city of Mosul on Tuesday morning.
The night before, an unidentified Iraqi had tipped off the Americans that Uday and Qusay were in the house, Sanchez said afterward. But all Sergeant George Granter knew on that blistering hot Tuesday morning was that intelligence was reporting the house was occupied by Baath Party members.
"They heard high guys, but they didn't know how high," Granter said.
The action that played out on the wide boulevard lined with villas, shops and a mosque began like countless others across occupied Iraq: with orders in Arabic to surrender.
"The intent is always to ask the people to come out voluntarily," said Colonel Joe Anderson, commander of the US Army's 101st Division's 2nd Brigade.
The owner of the house, Sheik Nawaf al-Zaydan Muhhamad, walked out with his son Shalan, their hands on their heads, and were whisked away by troops, neighbors said Wednesday.
The other occupants were less cooperative. So after 10 minutes, troops tried to enter the building. From the fortified middle floor of the three-floor building came Kalashnikov fire, raking the troops and wounding four of them. The Americans fell back to regroup and reinforcements were summoned.
Soldiers fanned out in the neighborhood and evacuated families from surrounding houses, said US Major Greg Ebeling.
By 10:45am, reinforcements had arrived, and the Americans began firing machine guns, grenades and rockets, Sanchez said. The area was surrounded so "there was no rush," the general said.
Witnesses said beige and maroon tiles popped from the facade and dust flew from the concrete columns. Still, gunfire rattled back from the mansion.
Just before noon, two Kiowa helicopters skimmed in over the rooftops, and rockets streaked into the villa. More and more troops poured into the neighborhood, witnesses said, until about 200 were surrounding the house.
It was their fire from the ground that proved decisive: .50-caliber machine guns, grenade launchers, then TOW missiles that blew out windows, cratered walls and killed Saddam's sons and a bodyguard, Sanchez said.
At 1:21pm soldiers stormed the wrecked mansion. They rushed up the stairs and shot the final holdout, apparently Qusay's teenage son Mustafa.
On the floor where Saddam's sons had chosen to make their last stand lay clothes, bloodstained bedding, a Pepsi can and a box of Mars Bars.