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Gillem suffers first war casualty

By Ed Brock

Fort Gillem has suffered its first casualty in the war in Iraq.

U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Christopher R. Willoughby, 29, Phenix City, Ala., died on July 20 in Baghdad, according to the Department of Defense. Willoughby was riding in a vehicle that rolled over, and his death came two days before Saddam Hussein's sons Odai and Qusai were believed killed in a firefight in Mosul in north Iraq.

Willoughby was assigned to Headquarters Company, 221st Military Intelligence Battalion, Fort Gillem in Forest Park. He was activated in February and arrived in Iraq in March, said Army Fort Benning spokesman Rich McDowell said.

McDowell said the family was informed on Sunday that Willoughby, who worked as an accountant in nearby Columbus, Ga., had been killed and funeral arrangements were still being made.

The Georgia State Adjutant General Maj. Gen. David Poythress sent the family a message saying the National Guard was "deeply saddened" by the news of Willoughby's death. Willoughby may also be the first National Guard member to die in a combat zone since World War II, Guard spokesman Lt. Jim Driscoll said.

Willoughby's unit was trained as a long-range surveillance company but Driscoll said he wasn't sure exactly what his mission was in Iraq. Many members of the 221st are Ranger and Airborne qualified, Driscoll said.

"It's an elite unit," Driscoll said.

Meanwhile in Iraq, acting on a tip from an Iraqi informant, U.S. forces mounted a six-hour operation Tuesday in which they surrounded and then stormed a palatial villa in Mosul, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told reporters in Baghdad.

Four coalition soldiers were wounded and two other Iraqis were killed in the raid, but Saddam was not among them. The house belonged to a Saddam cousin, a tribal leader in the region.

"We are certain that Odai and Qusai were killed today," Sanchez said. "The bodies were in such a condition where you could identify them."

The daily attacks on U.S. occupation troops are thought to be the work of former military officers and Baath Party leaders loyal to Saddam and his family ? especially the sons, who played primary roles in the military and feared security services.

"Outstanding," said 1st Lt. Greg Wilson, 33, with the Florida Army National Guard in the northeast section of Baghdad. He clapped his hands and said: "One step closer to getting home."

The White House applauded the action.

"Over the period of many years, these two individuals were responsible for countless atrocities committed against the Iraqi people and they can no longer cast a shadow of hate on Iraq," it said in a statement.

Secretary of State Colin Powell echoed those remarks.

"I was pleased to learn that these two brutal members of Saddam's regime are no longer a threat," Powell said in a statement. "The Iraqi people are safer today. We will pursue the other members of his murderous regime wherever they might be hiding."

The gunfight in Mosul broke out after soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division surrounded the stone, columned villa.

When soldiers approached the building, gunmen inside opened fire with small arms. The "suspects barricaded themselves in the house" and "resisted fiercely," Sanchez said.

"They died in a fierce gunbattle," he added.

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were working on a tip from an Iraqi informant Monday night that the sons were in the house, he said.

Asked if the United States would pay the $15 million rewards, Sanchez said: "I would expect that it probably will happen."

According to witnesses, a small force of American soldiers went to the house about 9 a.m. and asked permission to search it. The occupants refused, and the patrol withdrew until about 10 a.m., when 100 more soldiers arrived in 25 vehicles.

The Americans opened fire and took fierce return fire from inside the home, the witnesses said. Kiowa helicopters then shot rockets into the villa.

The building, in the al-Falah neighborhood, was left charred and smoldering, its high facade riddled with gaping holes from bullets and heavy weaponry.

The interior of the house was destroyed and two adjacent homes were badly damaged.

Some Mosul civilians appeared to have been caught in the crossfire. It was not known how many were injured, but several were taken to a hospital.

Once the fighting died down, Iraqi police came to help the Americans search the building.

The soldiers removed four bodies and did not let photographers take pictures. The other two bodies were tentatively identified as that of a bodyguard and a teen-ager, U.S. officials said. The teen may have been a son of Qusai, they said.

Experts conducted DNA tests after the bodies were flown from Mosul to another location, officials said. But Sanchez would not answer whether the tests were positive, saying "we've used multiple, multiple sources to identify the individuals."

In the confusion of celebratory gunfire across Baghdad, a unit of the Florida Army National Guard, believing that it was coming under fire, shot a man twice in the chest and a girl who looked to be between 6 and 8 once in the head.

The man was firing a gun about 30 yards away, as the unit ? attached to the 3rd Batallion, 53rd Infantry Brigade ? shot back. As the unit retreated under orders, a medic treated the girl, who was taken to a hospital in a passing car.

Qusai was probably intended as Saddam's successor, according to U.S. intelligence officials. He ran much of Iraq's security apparatus, controlling several militias, internal security services and the military forces of the once-vaunted Republican Guard.

He was described as quiet and levelheaded, particularly compared to Odai, his elder brother, who had a reputation for brutality and flamboyance. Odai controlled Saddam's Fedayeen, the paramilitary force that fought U.S. troops during the war; many of its survivors are thought to be part of the guerrilla campaign in Iraq.

Odai also controlled information and propaganda, and was chairman of the country's Olympic committee.

Saddam has a third, younger son, according to some reports, and three daughters. All kept a low profile in his regime.

Mosul, a city 240 miles northwest of Baghdad that housed Iraqi army bases, is outside the so-called "Sunni Triangle" in central Iraq. It is home to much of the remaining support for Saddam, a Sunni Muslim who used his Baathist Party to oppress the country's Shiite majority.

The triangle is also a center of anti-American resistance: In the latest attack, Tuesday, a U.S. soldier was killed and another wounded in an ambush along a dangerous road north of Baghdad. His death brought to 153 the number of U.S. troops killed in action since the March 20 start of war, six more than during the 1991 Gulf War.

The U.S. Central Command said the attackers used rocket-propelled grenades and small arms in the assault staged along the road between Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, and Ramadi, 60 miles west of the capital.

Twice during the war, information on Saddam's whereabouts was deemed solid enough that an airstrike was sent to kill him. But despite optimistic statements in the hours after each raid, U.S. officials now believe he is alive.

Asked at Tuesday's news conference if he had any idea where is, Sanchez replied: "We remain focused on finding, fixing, killing or capturing all members of the high-value target list."

The Associated Press contributed all of the information about the Iraqi developments to this article.