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.
But in a tape aired on Arab satellite channel Al Arabiya today, a masked man, claiming to be a member of the Fedayeen Saddam, a ragtag, notoriously violent paramilitary group formerly led by Odai, promised to avenge the deaths of Saddam's sons.
"We pledge to you Iraqi people that we will continue in the jihad [holy war] against the infidels," he said in a room adorned with portraits of Saddam. "The killing of Odai and Qusai will be avenged."
Looking for Clues
The firefight on Tuesday that left the brothers and two others dead gutted the fortified villa in northern Iraq where the men were hiding out.
Although bullets and missiles left gaping holes in the building's facade and destroyed the interior, U.S. troops and intelligence experts have been searching it for signs of Saddam's whereabouts.
Photos of the destroyed villa taken by the Arab satellite television station al Jazeera show what appears to be a computer monitor and keyboard along with scattered papers.
Reporting from Mosul, ABCNEWS' Jim Sciutto said intelligence gathered from the villa had been sent south to Baghdad for further examination amid renewed hopes that the noose was tightening around Saddam himself.
On Wednesday, Bush sent the message that the death of Saddam's sons was a sign that the "former regime has gone and will not be coming back."
In an upbeat progress report on the military operations in Iraq delivered from the White House Rose Garden, Bush said the "careers of two of the regime's chief henchmen came to an end" on Tuesday.
Flanked by Paul Bremer, the ranking U.S. official in Iraq, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, Bush said holdouts of resistance against U.S. forces in Iraq were being conducted by "enemies of Iraq's people" and he vowed that they would be "hunted" and "defeated."
ABCNEWS' Martha Raddatz and Brian Hartman in Washington, Jeffrey Kofman in Baghdad and Jim Sciutto in Mosul contributed to this report.