- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

NASHVILLE, Tenn. President Bush said yesterday that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is positioning military forces in civilian areas so that he can blame war casualties on the United States and its allies.
"Saddam Hussein regards the Iraqi people as human shields, entirely expendable, when their suffering serves his purposes," Mr. Bush told hundreds of religious broadcasters gathered at the Opryland Hotel.
"In violation of the Geneva Conventions, Saddam Hussein is positioning his military forces within civilian populations in order to shield his military and blame coalition forces for civilian casualties that he has caused," he said.
Despite the actions of Saddam whom the president called "the true enemy of the Iraqi people" Mr. Bush said the United States will strive not to involve innocent Iraqis in war if a U.S.-led coalition decides to disarm Saddam by force.
"If war is forced upon us and I say 'forced upon us' … should we need to use troops, for the sake of future generations of Americans, American troops will act in the honorable traditions of our military and in the highest moral traditions of our country," he said.
"We will try in every way we can to spare innocent life. The people of Iraq are not our enemies. … America views the Iraqi people as human beings who have suffered long enough under tyrants," Mr. Bush said, prompting applause.
The White House cited intelligence information to support its assertions that Saddam was repositioning his military forces, but Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan did not divulge specific evidence to support the accusation.
Asked repeatedly about a London Sunday Telegraph report published in The Washington Times that the United States and Britain might propose an ultimatum that would give Saddam 48 hours to leave Iraq, Mr. McClellan said: "There are a lot of diplomatic efforts going on right now."
Mr. Bush made his latest accusation against Saddam in a 40-minute speech rife with religious content, tailored for his audience 2,700 members of the National Religious Broadcasters group, which represents more than 1,500 evangelical Christian radio stations and 350 such TV outlets.
Noting that the United States faces threats not only from Saddam, but also from other international terrorist groups, Mr. Bush said, "We face a continuing threat of terrorist networks that hate the very thought of people being able to live in freedom."
"They hate the thought of the fact that in this great country we can worship the almighty God the way we see fit. And what probably makes them even angrier is we're not going to change," he said, drawing laughter and then sustained applause.
"My attitude is that we owe it to future generations of Americans and citizens in freedom-loving countries to see to it that Mr. Saddam Hussein is disarmed."
Mr. Bush pledged to help Iraqis if Saddam brings on war by flouting resolutions of the United Nations ordering him to disarm.
"The Iraqi people can be certain of this: The United States is committed to helping them build a better future. If conflict occurs, we'll bring Iraq food and medicine and supplies and, most importantly, freedom."
The conflict with Saddam is coming to a head as the U.N. Security Council considers how to respond to Iraq's refusal to comply fully with Resolution 1441. The council will hear another report Friday from U.N. inspectors, who have spent eight weeks trying to confirm whether Saddam is complying with the agreement.
Mr. Bush said yesterday that the world is a more dangerous place with Saddam uncontained.
"We face an outlaw regime in Iraq that hates our country. A regime that aids and harbors terrorists and is armed with weapons of mass murder. … Secretly, without fingerprints, Saddam Hussein could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists or help them develop their own," he said.
After returning to the White House from Tennessee, Mr. Bush met with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch U.S. ally against Iraq. The president repeated his demand that Iraq disarm and challenged France, Germany and Belgium to reverse course and allow NATO to prepare to defend Turkey against Iraq.
While Mr. Bush was in Nashville, Mr. Howard met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, both of whom signaled Mr. Bush's irritation with the NATO decision.
Sitting with Mr. Howard in front of the Oval Office fireplace, Mr. Bush said he was "disappointed" with the decision, which he called "shortsighted."
The president also dismissed efforts by Saddam to avert war by allowing U-2 surveillance planes to fly above Iraq and to permit interviews of scientists.
"This is a man who is trying to stall for time," he said. "The reason we need to fly U-2 flights is they're not disarming."

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