Military commanders in Iraq and Pentagon officials in Washington on Wednesday defended the decision to storm the safehouse in Mosul where Saddam Hussein's sons were hiding rather than try to encircle it and force them to surrender, much as the United States did with General Manuel Noriega in Panama in 1989.
"The option to surround the house and wait out the individuals in the house was considered and rejected," Leiutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the allied ground commander in Iraq, told reporters on Wednesday. "The commanders on the ground made the decision to go ahead and execute and accomplish their mission of finding, fixing, killing or capturing."
He added, "That was the right decision." In attacking the house after gunfire erupted from inside, US forces killed the two sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, and two other people.
Capturing the sons might have yielded an intelligence bonanza and scored propaganda points by permitting the Iraqis to put them on public trial, allied officials said on Wednesday.
"We wanted them to stand trial, but this happened," Gerard Russell, a spokesman for the British Foreign Office, told reporters on Wednesday in Basra in southern Iraq.
"What matters is that Iraqis now know that Saddam and his regime will not return to power and that there is a transitional Governing Council running Iraq," he said.
Waiting out the two sons posed several risks, military officials said. Escape was one risk. The second-story of the safehouse was fortified with bulletproof glass and barricades, and commanders feared that it might have an escape tunnel to nearby buildings.
"The key to success in an operation like that is speed and secrecy," the deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, told reporters at the Pentagon. "That's the most important thing. I'd just hate to be up here asking the question, `How come it took you three hours and they got away?' "
A prolonged siege could have given guerrillas time to fire on the 200 American troops surrounding the house, officials said. And, finally, administration officials said, capturing the sons alive could have provided the guerrillas with symbols of US occupation and a rallying point for resistance.