Through the night, people in the Arab world were riveted to television reports showing the bloody, bearded faces and wounded shoulders of Hussein's sons, Odai and Qusai. Analysts and forensic experts on pan-Arab stations dissected the four images and compared them to pre-war pictures of the men.
The Iraqi Governing Council was taken to an airport morgue to view the bodies. Members, including a doctor, said there was "absolutely no doubt it was Odai and Qusai," a spokesman said.
In Baghdad, Iraqis debated the merits of the photos. For every believer, there seemed to be a nonbeliever. The brothers wore thick facial hair they had not had before the U.S. invasion.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that releasing the photographs was necessary to "save American lives." The United States has long objected to the display of photographs of American war dead.
"The Baathists and the people of that country are frightened of Saddam Hussein and his regime," Rumsfeld said. "To get closure that two particularly vicious members of that regime are in fact dead is, I believe, something that will contribute to more Iraqi people being willing to come forward with information."
In cafes, shops and houses, Iraqis scanned television screens and examined the appearance of lips, teeth, eyes and build for confirmation of the men's identities.
"These pictures are not clear," former Iraqi intelligence chief Wafiq al-Sammarai said on the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera. "They don't give a clear idea."
Offering further proof, the Pentagon released X-rays of one body that showed pins in the legs that resembled those implanted in Odai after an assassination attempt in the mid-1990s.
The Bush administration insisted that the evidence would dispel any doubts about the men's identities.
"Saddam Hussein's sons were responsible for torture, for maiming innocent citizens and for the murder of countless Iraqis," President Bush said in Philadelphia. "And now, more than ever, the Iraqi people can know the former regime is gone and is not coming back."
The U.S.-led coalition promised to take local and international news media today to the morgue where the bodies are being kept and to release autopsy reports.
But on the streets of Baghdad, some Iraqis wondered why the Americans waited so long to let the public view the photos. Others expressed suspicions that the photos had been doctored.
"I'm not sure it was them," said Ghaydan Yatooma, 33, a liquor merchant. "All the Iraqi people are not so sure."
The full impact of the photos will not be clear until the weekend, after newspapers publish again Saturday after the Muslim holy day today.
Much of Baghdad was without power when the pictures were broadcast on Iraqi television at 9 p.m.
The Bush administration engaged in a long back-and-forth between Baghdad and Washington before agreeing to send the pictures to news agencies via the Internet, senior officials said in briefings to reporters.
Rumsfeld said in Washington that "it was not a snap decision," adding that he thought there will be "less enthusiasm" on the part of lower-level Baathists to continue the continuing fight against the U.S. military occupying Iraq and "a greater conviction" among the Iraqi people that the Hussein regime is finished.
"If it can save American lives, I'm happy to make the decision I made," Rumsfeld said.
As Rumsfeld noted, the practice of showing enemy bodies is not forbidden by the Geneva Conventions on war conduct, though photographs of prisoners of war are.
"These two individuals are particularly vicious individuals," he said. "They are now dead. ... The Iraqi people have been waiting for confirmation of that. And they, in my view, deserved having confirmation of that."
More than 600 pictures were taken by U.S. troops at the house raided in Mosul, according to military sources.
Arab commentators speculated yesterday evening about whether the display of the photos would inflame anti-American passions and spur a violent backlash. L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, acknowledged that that possibility was considered.
"It's not a decision one lightly makes," said Bremer, who joined Rumsfeld at yesterday's Pentagon briefing. "Our view was that it was an important matter for the Iraqi people."
It is common among Muslims to bury the dead quickly. The Pentagon said it will consult with Iraqi leaders before deciding what to do with the corpses.
In Dubai, Al-Arabiya television aired footage of several men in masks toting automatic rifles who said they were a remnant of the Fedayeen Saddam militia, which was led by Odai Hussein.
"We pledge to you Iraqi people that we will continue in the jihad against the infidels," a speaker said. "The killing of Odai and Qusai will be avenged."
Still, U.S. commanders were reluctant to pin two attacks in as many days on American soldiers in northern Iraq on revenge. Around 3 a.m., soldiers of the 101st Airborne - the division that raided the Hussein brothers - were guarding a convoy when they came under intense attack south of Mosul.
The military released scant details of the incident. But the death toll of three soldiers in one incident is one of the highest since President Bush declared major combat over May 1.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.