Killing of Saddam's sons 'great news for Iraq' says Blair

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Tony Blair today hailed the killing of two of Saddam Hussein's sons as "great news".

Mr Blair told reporters in Hong Kong that Uday and Qusay Hussein had been responsible for the torture and killing of thousands of Iraqis.

He spoke following confirmation by the US commander of coalition forces Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez that the pair were among those killed by US forces during a fierce gun battle in northern Iraq,

The general said he was certain they were among four victims of a six-hour shoot-out which followed a raid on a home in Mosul by the US 101st Airborne Division.

As news of their deaths spread, there was widespread gunfire across the Iraqi capital as people celebrated.

Mr Blair in Hong Kong said: "This is a great day for the new Iraq. These two particular people were at the head of a regime that wasn't just a security threat because of its weapons programme but was responsible for the torture and killing of thousands and thousands of innocent Iraqis.

"The celebrations that are taking place are an indication of just how evil they were.

"I think this is a very important move forward. It's great news."

Jack Straw last night said the deaths of Saddam Hussein's two sons would provide new "reassurance to the Iraqi people" and end any lingering fears that they remained a threat to the country's security .

"Uday and Qusay Hussein shared their father's responsibility for the many years of suffering by the Iraqi people," Mr Straw said.

"They had the opportunity to hand themselves in to justice and answer for their crimes. They refused to do this."

But shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram warned last night - the eve of his visit to Baghdad for talks with Iraq's new governing council - that it would take the capture of Saddam himself to restore calm.

Speaking from Kuwait, Mr Ancram said: "These were two evil men. They waged terror against their own people and their continued existence kept terror in the hearts of the people of Iraq even after the war ended.

"Their deaths will lift a great weight from the people of Iraq leaving now only the discovery of Saddam Hussein to complete the end of the reign of terror."

He said the news appeared to have been "very well received" in Baghdad but warned that apprehension would continue until Saddam himself was "caught and dealt with".

Mr Ancram will be the first British MP to visit the Iraqi capital since the governing council was established nine days ago.

News of the deaths of two of Saddam Hussein's sons is expected to boost US and British forces in Iraq who have faced strong resistance since major conflict in the country was officially declared over.

Analysts believe it could help remove the fear that the old regime will return which has prevented the local population from coming forward with information about continued resistance.

Retired US Army Major General Paul Valleley, told Fox News that it might lead to the discovery of the former Iraqi dictator.

The deaths are also expected to help President George W Bush who has lost support in the US since the fall of Baghdad, amid the rising death toll of US troops and allegations that his administration exaggerated the pre-war threat from Saddam.

Uday and Qusay's bodies were reported to be riddled with bullets following the operation which was led by an elite military task force formed to hunt for Saddam and his top supporters.

Two hundred members of the 101st Airborne Division were also involved in the Mosul assault, 280 miles north of Baghdad. The area is largely controlled by Kurdish forces.

The two other victims in the raid have not been named. One is believed to be a teenage boy, possibly Qusay's son, and the other a bodyguard.

The tip-off about the hideout is believed to have come from an Iraqi man who told US forces about their whereabouts on Monday.

Washington had put a £10 million bounty on Uday, 39, and Qusay, 37, for their capture, dead or alive. The pair were both aces in the 55 most wanted Iraqis deck of cards issued by the US.

Qusay was put in charge of four key areas during the war, including Baghdad and Tikrit, his family's tribal home.

He also ran the Iraqi intelligence network, the 80,000-strong Republican Guard and the 15,000-member Special Republican Guard, that protected Saddam and his family.

Uday was notorious for torturing Iraqi athletes during his role as head of the nation's Olympic committee.

He also ran the dreaded Saddam Fedayeen security force, edited a leading newspaper, Babel, and was head of Youth TV, the country's most popular channel.

Uday warned shortly before the war that Iraqi troops would make the mothers of US soldiers "weep blood instead of tears".

Paul Bremer, the US administrator in Iraq, described the news as a "great day for the Iraqi people and for the US military who showed their outstanding professionalism".

Dr Hamid Al-Bayati, UK representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said the deaths were "great news" for all of the Iraqi people who suffered from this regime.

Speaking on behalf of the council, which is part of the new governing body in Baghdad, Dr Al-Bayati added: "We think the Allies are much closer now to finding Saddam himself...They were evil men. They killed a lot of people. Their own deaths are the right punishment."

Nada Hakki, a Faylee Kurd from Baghdad who lost her brother under Saddam's regime, and who now works as a hospital doctor in London, said: "We have chopped off part of the snake but we still need the head - Saddam.

"This will help restore security in Baghdad - right now there is no security, the situation is appalling you cannot guarantee your life will be safe if you go there. The sooner the Americans show they are in control the better, so the death of these Baathists helps."