- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 18 (UPI) — Iraqi President Saddam Hussein met with his top military commanders Tuesday to discuss combat preparations after U.S. President George W. Bush gave Saddam and his two sons a 48-hour deadline to leave Baghdad.

Official Iraqi television said high-ranking military officials participated in the meeting with Saddam, who appeared wearing military fatigues for the first time in years.

The station said the meeting was also attended by Saddam's younger son, Qusay, who supervises the Republican Guards, Minister of Defense Lt. Gen. Sultan Hashem Ahmed, and the commanders of the Air Force and Air Defense Force.

Saddam and his military commanders discussed "plans that took into consideration the requirements for the decisive battle in such a way as to enable the Iraqi people confront the aggressors and inflict on them the harsh punishment and achieve victory," the station said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to denounce the U.S. threats and Bush's ultimatum to Saddam.

The demonstrators shouted "Death to America, Death to Britain" and burned U.S., British and Israeli flags.

Earlier Tuesday, Saddam's eldest son Uday rejected Bush's ultimatum and said the Iraqis "will make the mothers and wives of the U.S. and British invading soldiers shed blood instead of tears on their sons and husbands" if they invaded Iraq.

In Cairo, Iraq's envoy to the 22-member Arab League, Mohsen Khalil, handed a letter from Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to Arab League chief Amr Mousa rejecting Bush's ultimatum.

"Bush committed an irresponsible action and violated the charters of the U.N. Security Council and Arab League," Khalil said, noting that the issue of Saddam leaving power was "an internal matter that concerns the Iraqi people."

He said Bush's speech was "a dangerous development and makes the war on Iraq imminent." He called on the Arab countries for action to confront and prevent "the American aggression."

Arab League spokesman Hisham Youssef said the Arab organization cannot accept Bush's warning to Saddam because Resolution 1441 did not include a time limit and "there is an international recognition of Iraq's cooperation with the U.N. inspection teams."

Youssef regretted Bush's decision to act outside the framework of the Security Council and the international legitimacy and said Washington decided to adopt the military option and put an end to the diplomatic action that the international community wishes.

Arab diplomatic sources denied Mousa will visit Baghdad and explained that recent developments canceled such a visit. The sources said an Arab foreign ministers' meeting scheduled for March 24 might also be canceled to avoid increasing inter-Arab differences.

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