Graphic photographs of the bodies of Saddam Hussein's sons have been released in hopes of quelling skepticism that the once-dreaded and influential Hussein brothers are dead.
Close-up photographs of the severely bruised faces of Odai and Qusai Hussein, lying face-up, were released to news agencies. They were accompanied by photographs of the brothers while they were alive and X-ray slides apparently used to help identify Odai.
The X-ray slides are believed to show the injuries Odai sustained during a 1996 assassination attempt. He had a titanium femur implant in one leg.
The photographs of Qusai showed a thickly bearded, bloodied face while the image of Saddam's eldest son, Odai, revealed a shaved head and severely bruised, bearded face.
It was not known if Odai and Qusai had grown beards in an attempt to disguise themselves.
The photographs of Odai showed severe bruises around the nose and upper lip region along with a scar or discoloration running along the right side of his face, which could support some claims that he may have committed suicide.
Earlier this week, a military official who had earlier seen the photographs told ABCNEWS that Odai appeared to have a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the head.
The images of Qusai appeared more intact with bruises and blood-clot marks on the eyes.
Their bodies were among four discovered inside a villa in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul after a fierce gunfight on Tuesday. The identities of the other two bodies have not yet been released.
While the U.S. military has historically been reluctant to release photographs of people killed in combat, the images were released by the provisional authority in Iraq to overcome widespread Iraqi skepticism that the Hussein brothers were dead.
At a press briefing in Washington today, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the decision to release the images.
"The Iraqi people have been waiting for confirmation of that [the deaths of Saddam's sons] and they, in my view, deserved having confirmation of that," he said. "I feel it was the right decision and I'm glad I made it."
The gruesome photographs were immediately broadcast across the Arab world by the satellite channels al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.
But reporters in Iraq said the reactions to the photographs were mixed, with several Iraqis maintaining they were still unconvinced by the photographs. Several Iraqis expressed disappointment that Saddam's sons, who have been accused of human rights and war crimes, were not captured alive.
Three U.S. Soldiers Killed in Attacks
The release of the photographs came hours after three U.S. soldiers from a military unit involved in the attack on Odai and Qusai were killed when their convoy came under attack near Mosul today.
Their deaths bring to five the number of U.S. troops killed since Saddam's sons died in a massive operation involving the 101st Airborne Division, elements of the Air Force, Special Forces and the Iraqi police force.
U.S. officials had hoped guerrilla attacks against U.S. troops would abate after the deaths of Saddam's sons. Although there was no proof that Odai or Qusai Hussein were directing earlier attacks, officials believed their deaths would provide a strong signal to loyalists and other militias resisting the U.S. occupation.