A few dozen mourners buried Saddam Hussein's two sons today in the former president's birthplace, honoring them as martyrs 11 days after they were killed in a firefight with U.S. soldiers.
In an early morning ceremony that was organized quickly and quietly for fear of anti-U.S. violence, the bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein were laid to rest under a scorching sun in a cemetery in Owja, a village on the edge of this northern Iraqi city, news agencies reported. Qusay Hussein's 14-year-old son Mustafa, who had also died in the raid, was buried next to them.
Mahmoud Nada, an elder of the tribal group that includes Hussein's family, led about 40 mourners in prayer at the gravesite as the wind whipped clouds of dust, the Reuters news agency reported. The bodies were covered with Iraqi flags, and tribesmen heaped stones and earth on the graves.
An audiotape released this past week and purportedly made by Hussein hailed his two sons and grandson as martyrs and encouraged Iraqis to follow their example of fighting U.S. forces.
Three American soldiers were wounded today when two improvised explosive devices were detonated as their military vehicles were driving through Tikrit, a military spokesman said. Lt. Col. Steve Russell of the 4th Infantry Division said it was possible that the attacks were connected to the burials of the Hussein brothers.
Military officials announced that a U.S. soldier was killed and three were wounded Friday in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on their convoy east of Baghdad, according to the Associated Press.
U.S. officials have said repeatedly that the killing or capture of Saddam Hussein and his closest associates is pivotal for their plan to establish a stable postwar government. They say there must be an atmosphere free of fear that Hussein's rule could somehow be restored. Commanders of the 4th Infantry Division, headquartered in Tikrit, reaffirmed their commitment to root out Hussein loyalists and to hunt down the former president, who reportedly has been sighted in his home town in recent weeks, military officials said.
In Baghdad, the U.S. civil administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said the informant who told American soldiers where to find Hussein's sons has been relocated to another country. On Thursday, the State Department announced that the informant, who has not been identified, would be paid the $30 million bounty promised by the U.S. government for information leading to the capture or killing of the sons.
Seeking to elicit information on Hussein's whereabouts, Bremer dangled the prospect of a rich life in a foreign country for the person who leads U.S. forces to the former president. "We're going to get Saddam, too," he said at a news conference. "The only question is who is going to get the $25 million [for the discovery of the elder Hussein] and move to another country."
The U.S. military had held the embalmed bodies of Uday, Qusay and Mustafa Hussein and a bodyguard in refrigeration in a morgue at Baghdad International Airport since July 22, when U.S. soldiers and Special Forces raided a house in Mosul and killed them during a six-hour gunfight.
Muslim tradition requires that a body be buried as soon as possible after death, but U.S. military and civilian authorities held onto the bodies while privately debating with members of Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council and other Iraqi officials about what to do with them. Finally, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society took possession of the bodies and brought them here, the group's president, Jamal Karbouli, told Reuters.
"We received the bodies . . . this morning at 9 a.m.," Karbouli said. "Our employees delivered the bodies to relatives."
Russell, of the 4th Infantry Division, told the Associated Press that villagers wanted the funeral to be peaceful. "The people of al-Owja just wanted it over with. They didn't want to make a big deal about it," Russell said.
He said tribal leaders contacted the Army Friday to warn that the bodies would be arriving. "One of the sheiks was very nervous about it all and came to our forces pleading that we be aware, so nothing would happen to the people of al-Owja," Russell said.
Chandrasekaran reported from Baghdad.