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The Sacramento Bee March 19, 2003

U.S. forces await signal Saddam defiant; American troops ready, Bush told

By David Westphal
Bee Washington Bureau Chief

With Saddam Hussein summarily rejecting President Bush's ultimatum to go into exile or face war, nearly a quarter-million U.S. troops Tuesday awaited only the president's signal to invade Iraq.

"Saddam Hussein, if he doesn't leave the country, will make his final mistake," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Bush met with his war Cabinet at the White House and was told the military is ready to invade on his order. That could come as early as 7 tonight PST, when Bush's 48-hour ultimatum expires.

Leading off a campaign dubbed "Operation Iraqi Freedom," the administration also was considering a brief strike as an eleventh-hour signal to Saddam and Iraq's military leadership that their cause was hopeless, CNN reported.

Fleischer would not rule out a U.S. attack before Bush's 48-hour clock runs out. "Saddam Hussein has to figure out what this means," he said.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush is leaving the door open in case Saddam makes a pre-emptive attack or U.S. intelligence warns that one is likely.

In Baghdad, Iraqi leaders mocked Bush and ridiculed the idea that Saddam and his sons would consider leaving the country.

Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said Bush should "go into exile, because it is Mr. Bush who is endangering the whole world." Sabri predicted a long war, saying Iraq has spent 13 years planning for a U.S. attack. Although military analysts are almost unanimous in their judgment that Iraq's army is far weaker than in 1990, he declared it "1,000 times" more prepared.

Odai Hussein, one of Saddam's sons, also brushed off the demands. He called Bush unstable and said he "should give up power in America with his family."

In Kuwait, U.S. Army and Marine divisions moved closer to the Iraqi border, forming an arc of thousands of vehicles. The sky was thick with assault and transport helicopters.

Iran's state TV showed video of explosions from U.S. and British airstrikes in and around the southern Iraqi port of Basra.

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, met with his aides at Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar. Throughout the day, soldiers in the command post huddled around TV sets whenever they could, following cable coverage of the final diplomatic endgame.

With France and Germany continuing to lead opposition to a war, Secretary of State Colin Powell released a list of 30 countries he said would be part of the U.S.-led "coalition of the willing."

In addition to Britain, which has committed more than 40,000 troops, other countries that are expected to help in some way include Spain, Australia, Turkey, Poland, Romania, Denmark, Japan and the Netherlands. Powell said an additional 15 countries support the war effort but don't wish to be named.

At least two of the 30 nations, Spain and the Netherlands, have explicitly ruled out the use of their troops to invade Iraq. Another, Japan, was identified as only a post-conflict member of the coalition, meaning it would help in rebuilding Iraq.

And in a possible signal that France might yet soften its opposition, Jean-David Levitte, France's ambassador to the United States, told CNN the French could join the coalition if Saddam "were to use chemical and biological weapons."

Pentagon officials said intelligence reports indicate a high risk that Iraq would use chemical weapons. The reports indicate Saddam has given field-level commanders authority to use chemical weapons on their own initiative, without further directives from Baghdad, the officials said.

As they prepared for war, officials in the United States ordered tighter security at airports, seaports, nuclear facilities and other installations, and warned Americans that war-related terrorist attacks are possible.

Political ripples from Bush's decision to issue a war ultimatum continued to build. Opinion polls showed Americans were lining up behind the president. According to a Gallup Poll conducted after Bush spoke to the nation Monday night, 68 percent said Washington had done all it could diplomatically to avoid war.

Republicans took issue with the harsh criticism leveled against Bush on Monday by Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, who suggested American lives might be lost because the president had "failed so miserably at diplomacy."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said those comments came close to giving "comfort to our adversaries."

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said, "I've got to believe this: that Tom Daschle is better - better than what those comments reflected."

But Daschle didn't budge. Referring to Bush's inability to win support at the United Nations, the South Dakotan said, "I don't know that anyone in this country could view what we've seen so far as a diplomatic success."

Around the world, Bush's top allies, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, were struggling to cope with strong anti-war sentiment at home.

Blair, in a critical test of his political future, defeated a bid in Parliament sponsored by members of his own Labor Party opposing military action against Iraq. Three members of his Cabinet have resigned in opposition to Blair's commitment of troops to the cause, but he argued in a passionate speech to Parliament that Britain couldn't abandon the United States now.

"Back away from this confrontation now and future conflicts will be infinitely worse and more devastating in their effects," Blair said.

In Ankara, Turkey, government leaders said they would ask parliament to grant the U.S. military the right to use Turkish airspace in an Iraq war but would not immediately ask lawmakers to allow in U.S. troops.

Cabinet spokesman Cemil Cicek said a resolution allowing airspace rights would be put to a parliament vote by Thursday at the latest and that a separate motion on troop deployment could be considered later.

The Turkish government also insists on its right to send troops into Iraq if it determines that it needs to, a senior American official said late Tuesday night.

Turkey fears that once Saddam is toppled, Iraqi Kurds who already enjoy autonomy in the north may declare independence - a move that could inspire Turkey's own Kurds and revive a 15-year war between Turkish troops and autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels.

The United States has urged Turkey not to unilaterally send its soldiers across the border.

In the Iraqi capital, Saddam appeared on television in military uniform for the first time since the 1991 Persian Gulf War and warned his top commanders to prepare for battle. Thousands of demonstrators swept into the streets, mobilized by a televised appeal, promising to give Saddam their "blood and souls."

Diplomats, U.N. weapons inspectors and others left Baghdad by plane or drove overland to Jordan. Many Iraqis also have left the city. A similar exodus continued in northern Iraq, where Kurds feared chemical or conventional attacks by Saddam's forces. In the front-line city of Chamchamal, about 35 miles from Kirkuk, thousands of Kurds have fled in the past two days.

The Associated Press reported that the United States and Britain are working on a plan to use Iraqi oil proceeds from a $40 billion account to pay for humanitarian supplies during a war.

The proposal, based on the assumption that Saddam will be overthrown quickly, is to be presented to the United Nations shortly after a military conflict begins, U.N. diplomats said.

* * *

The Bee's David Westphal can be reached at (202) 383-0002 or dwestphal@mcclatchydc.com. Paul McEnroe of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, reporting from northern Iraq, Kevin Diaz of The Bee Washington Bureau, reporting from Qatar, and Bee news services contributed to this report.

INSIDE

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announces Operation Liberty Shield as America gears up for potential reprisals to an attack on Iraq. * Page A16

Analysis: President Bush's quest for international solidarity on Iraq lies in shambles.

* Page A17

Two events in Sacramento illustrate the passion and polarization of a nation on the brink of war.

* Page B1 Saying uncertainties about Iraq are too great, the Fed leaves interest rates unchanged. * Page D1

GRAPHIC: Getty Images / Joe Raedle President Bush was told Tuesday by his war Cabinet that the military is ready to invade Iraq. In Kuwait, U.S. troops moved closer to the Iraqi border and the start of hostilities. Above, Marine Cpl. Michael McVey of Cincinnati relaxes atop his tank at Camp Shoup. At right, Army infantrymen are briefed on Iraqi forces in a squad-level meeting at their desert encampment. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge

Associated Press / Hasan Sarbakhshian Iraqi Kurdish families leave Irbil, which is controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, in northern Iraq on Tuesday. They fear attacks from Saddam Hussein's forces in the event of a U.S.-led war.

Associated Press

Coalition forces poised to strike Nearly 300,000 U.S. and British troops are now positioned in the Persian Gulf region.

Turkey
* About 1,700 Air Force personnel; 360 Dutch to operate Patriot missiles
* More than 25 ships containing tanks and guided missile launchers for the 4th Infantry Division are standing by off coast of Turkey Jordan
* Several hundred U.S. troops manning anti-missile batteries

Oman
* Three air bases house a special operations squadron, C-130s and B-1 bombers

Djibouti
* About 1,200 U.S. troops at Camp Lemonier; 400 U.S. Navy, Marines, Air Force and Army personnel aboard USS Mount Whitney in Gulf of Aden Mediterranean Sea
* USS Harry S. Truman; USS Theodore Roosevelt

Red Sea
* About 12 ships from the Roosevelt and Truman battle groups went through Suez Canal to the Red Sea, including destroyers, guided missile cruisers and three submarines

Persian Gulf
* USS Abraham Lincoln
* USS Constellation
* USS Kitty Hawk

En route
* USS Nimitz

Diego Garcia (not shown)
* 1,000 civilian mariners for Military Sealift Command
* Base for B-2 Stealth bombers and B-52s

Bahrain
* Navy 5th Fleet HQ; USNS Comfort hospital ship

United Arab Emirates
* 4,000 troops backed by Apache attack helicopters, tanks, amphibious armored vehicles * Ships include a missile boat and a frigate Al Dhafra Air Base - reconnaissance wing; air refueling squadrons

In the region
* 22 amphibious task group ships carrying more than 10,000 Marines

Qatar
* About 3,300 U.S. forces, including air refueling squadrons and F-15 fighter wing; U.S. Central Command HQ at Camp As Sayliyah
* Al Udeid Air Base houses F-16s and F-117 Stealth fighters

Kuwait
* More than 100,000 U.S. forces at multiple army and air force bases including:
* 1st Marine Expeditionary Force: 50,000 Marines
* Army's 3rd Infantry Division: 16,500 soldiers, Apache attack and Kiowa Warrior helicopters; hundreds of M1A2 Abrams tanks and M2/M3 Bradley fighting vehicles
* Army's 101st Airborne Division: 19,000; 280 helicopters
* 40,000 British forces
* Ali al Salem Air Base - British Tornados
* Al Jaber Air Base - F-15s; F-16s, C-130s

Sources: Center for Defense Information, GlobalSecurity.org., Council on Foreign Relations, Associated Press


Copyright 2003, McClatchy Newspapers, Inc.