TIKRIT, Iraq (Reuters) – Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay were buried on Saturday in a rushed funeral at a dusty cemetery, as U.S. soldiers scoured the surrounding countryside and villages for the fugitive dictator himself.
Two graves were dug in the sun-baked earth in Awja, the village where Saddam was born on the outskirts of Tikrit. As gusts of wind whipped up clouds of dust, tribal elders covered the bodies with Iraqi flags and heaped stones on the graves.
A cleric in a white robe intoned prayers as around 40 tribesman stood by the graveside. One man knelt down to kiss one of the graves. Mahmoud al-Nada, an elder of the Beijat tribal group that includes Saddam’s family, led the mourners.
Uday and Qusay were killed on July 22 when U.S. troops attacked their hideout in the northern city of Mosul with grenades, heavy machineguns, rockets and anti-tank missiles. Qusay’s son Mustafa and Uday’s bodyguard were also killed.
U.S. officers said they hoped the killing of the brothers would demoralize guerrillas mounting daily ambushes on U.S. troops. But there has been no let-up in attacks.
A U.S. army spokesman said one soldier was killed and three wounded in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a 4th Infantry Division convoy in northern Iraq late on Friday. The ambush brought to 53 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in hostile action since Washington declared major combat over on May 1.
The army also said a 101st Airborne Division soldier was wounded in a grenade attack near Tall Afar, west of Mosul.
A U.S. officer confirmed that Uday and Qusay’s bodies had been handed over to the Iraqi Red Crescent and later buried.
Muslim custom stipulates that bodies must be buried as soon as possible after death. But U.S. officials, anxious to avoid the graves becoming a shrine, delayed the burial while they consulted prominent Iraqis on what to do with the corpses.
Some locals in Tikrit, a stronghold of support for Saddam, said they regarded the dead brothers as martyrs.
“They are the heroes of Iraq,” one said.