BAGHDAD, IRAQ — BAGHDAD, Iraq - The United States holds irrefutable proof that Saddam Hussein's sons are dead, including dental records and visual confirmation from four of the deposed dictator's aides, but a skeptical Iraqi public held out yesterday for photographs, and the occupying authority did not broadcast them.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the commanding general here, admitted that the release of the grisly photos, which he was carrying with him yesterday and exhibited briefly, posed a dilemma.
On the one hand, a public display could help lessen fear among Iraqis that the regime remains a threat; on the other, the military does not want to appear to be gloating.
Speaking to reporters last night on Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was asked whether any decision had been made to release photographs of the bodies of Hussein's sons.
"There will be pictures released," he replied, although he declined to say when.
The United States called the deaths of Hussein's sons, Odai and Qusai, in a shootout in the northern city of Mosul on Tuesday a turning point in the postwar occupation of Iraq that could demoralize loyalists to the deposed government.
In solemn tones during a brief Rose Garden appearance at the White House, President Bush said that the deaths should reassure Iraqis "that the former regime is gone and will not be coming back."
But the president acknowledged continuing problems with armed holdouts - "the enemies of Iraq's people," he called them - and he appealed to other countries to provide both military and financial support to the U.S.-led forces.
Bush did not dwell on details of the deaths, but said that in Mosul on Tuesday, "the careers of two of the regime's chief henchmen came to an end."
"Saddam Hussein's sons were responsible for the torture, maiming and murder of countless Iraqis," he said.
But even with the American assurances, ordinary Iraqis remained unconvinced that Hussein's sons were gone. Many were reluctant to accept the news until they had some visual proof.
Some expressed disappointment that the sons had not been captured so they could suffer the same humiliation of captivity they had inflicted on others.
Some said the deaths of the men further confirmed a seemingly endless cycle of blood in Iraq that the United States appeared to be perpetuating.
"I can't see how the death of two or three or five is a great day for Iraq," said Wamidh Nadhmi, a political science professor at Baghdad University. "I was hoping that revenge and counter-revenge would stop one day in this poor country."
Photos and evidence
Sanchez was carrying the photos of Hussein's sons in a manila folder, showing them briefly to a small group of reporters after a news conference here.
The photos, printed on standard-sized letter paper, showed the battered, bloodied heads and upper torsos of Odai and Qusai Hussein. Odai, 39, had a purple 5-inch gash running up from his mouth along the side of his nose.
Forensic specialists made a 90 percent match with Odai's teeth because some had been damaged by whatever had caused the wound, the general said. Wound marks on Odai's body matched those of X-rays taken after a 1996 assassination attempt, he said.
The two men had grown thick, bushy beards, and Odai had recently shaved his head, which was covered with short fuzz when he died. Qusai, 37, normally carefully groomed, had let his hair grow. Blood clogged the nostrils and eyes of both men, who were recognizable as they lay on the floor, eyes closed.
Sanchez said four senior members of Hussein's government now in custody at Baghdad International Airport, where the bodies were taken, had each separately been shown the corpses and confirmed that they were Hussein's sons.
The four were Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister and foreign minister; Abd Hamoud al-Tikriti, the former president's personal secretary; and two of the men's uncles, Watban and Barzan al-Tikriti.
Sanchez said that given the weight of evidence, he did not feel further DNA testing was necessary.
He also said that finding Hussein remained the main focus of American forces now, although the death of the two sons represented a "significant change" that he hoped would encourage more Iraqis to cooperate with the manhunt.
Although American forces were still combing the ruins of the Mosul residence for clues about Hussein's whereabouts, the general said, it was impossible to guess if Hussein might also be around Mosul. "I wouldn't make any extrapolation from this," he said. "Iraq is a huge country."
Sanchez said he believed Odai and Qusai probably died when soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division launched 10 TOW missiles at the mansion during the third and final phase of an attack lasting more than three hours.
In the towns of Ramadi and Falluja west of Baghdad, part of the Sunni-dominated swath of Iraq where attacks on American troops have occurred with almost predictable frequency, some residents and soldiers said they doubted that the deaths of Hussein's sons would quickly dampen the violence.
Unlike Baghdad, where celebratory gunfire erupted all over the city on news of the deaths of Odai and Qusai, Fallujah was still on Tuesday night because people doubted the veracity of the reports, said police officers at the central precinct house.
"This is rumors, media, no one is sure," said Muhammad Jasim Ali, 35, a Fallujah police officer. "They will have to film the corpses for people to believe them."
Ali and other Fallujah police officers dismissed the idea that attacks on American forces would abate any time soon. Ali said he was saddened to hear about the possibility of the deaths because "they were the president's sons."
He said he was sure that others who felt as he did would fight the Americans with renewed fervor.
"If Odai and Qusai were killed, we will take our revenge," Ali said. "The attacks of course will increase."
Others in Fallujah agreed with the police, adding that the resistance to the American presence would persist because it is based in Islam, not allegiance to the old government.
"In Fallujah, we don't care about this," said Abdul Majid Noori, 27, of the death of Hussein's sons. "We care about our religion."
Sitting in a sign shop festooned with banners in English that read, "Our aim is not to kill you, but our independence is more precious than your blood," Noori continued: "In our religion, the infidel has no right to relieve the oppression of believers.
"If we want to change the regime, we'll do it ourselves."