- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

President Bush last night gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq or face an overwhelming military attack to finally topple the dictator a dozen years after surviving the Gulf war.
"Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours," Mr. Bush said in a somber prime-time address from the main hall of the White House residence. "Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing."
For the first time, the president issued a direct appeal to Iraqi forces to lay down their arms when allied troops storm across the borders from neighboring countries, where they are massed a quarter-million strong.
"I urge every member of the Iraqi military and intelligence services: If war comes, do not fight for a dying regime that is not worth your own life," he said. "Your fate will depend on your actions."
Mr. Bush also threatened Iraqi forces with war-crimes charges if they use weapons of mass destruction.
"War crimes will be prosecuted; war criminals will be punished," he added. "And it will be no defense to say, 'I was just following orders.'"
The president urged all foreign nationals, including journalists and U.N. weapons inspectors, to leave Iraq immediately.Eyewitnesses told Reuters news agency in Baghdad that the inspectors left their headquarters early this morning in a convoy of four minibuses headed for the city's airport.
At the conclusion of Mr. Bush's speech, the administration raised the nation's terror alert threat from "elevated" (yellow) to "high" (orange), the second-highest of five levels.
Still, the president insisted America would not be cowed by the prospect of terrorist attacks in response to war with Iraq.
"Should enemies strike our country, they would be attempting to shift our attention with panic and weaken our morale with fear," Mr. Bush said. "In this, they will fail."
"We are a peaceful people, but we are not a fragile people," he added. "And we will not be intimidated by thugs and killers."
The speech came just hours after Mr. Bush ordered U.S. diplomats to withdraw an 18th resolution against Iraq from a looming vote by the U.N. Security Council. A threatened veto by France doomed the resolution, although it appeared to have the support of 10 of the 15 Security Council members.
"The time for diplomacy has passed," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said.
By withdrawing the resolution, Mr. Bush made good on a promise 10 days earlier to close the diplomatic window by March 17. Rather than allow the process to drag on, he opted to turn the nation's attention away from diplomacy and toward imminent military action.
"Events in Iraq have now reached the final days of decision," the president said at the start of his 15-minute address. "We are now acting because the risks of inaction would be far greater. In one year, or five years, the power of Iraq to inflict harm on all free nations would be multiplied many times over."
After recounting Saddam's years of intransigence and defiance of the United Nations, Mr. Bush sketched out a nightmare scenario in which the dictator would provide weapons of mass destruction for terrorists to use against America and its allies. He thus portrayed the United States as acting in self-defense by disarming Saddam.
"The United States and other nations did nothing to deserve or invite this threat, but we will do everything to defeat it," he said.
"Instead of drifting along toward tragedy, we will set a course toward safety," he added. "Before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed."
He added: "Responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense. It is suicide. The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now."
In New York, Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri said he was "sad and angry at the same time because I found no reason for all this game, no reason for this war, no reason for this conflictual relationship between Iraq and the United States."
In his speech, Mr. Bush also made a point of countering critics who claim only the United Nations can sanction war against Iraq.
"The United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security," he vowed. "That duty falls to me as commander in chief by the oath I have sworn, by the oath I will keep."
Even before he spoke, Mr. Bush was savaged by prominent Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who said the "president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war."
But the president reminded the nation that Congress authorized that war last year, when Mr. Daschle and his fellow Democrats controlled the Senate.
"Recognizing the threat to our country, the United States Congress voted overwhelmingly last year to support the use of force against Iraq," Mr. Bush said.
He was less charitable to the United Nations, saying that although he had tried to work with the world body, it "has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours."
He appeared particularly upset at France and Russia, although he did not mention the countries by name.
"Some permanent members of the Security Council have publicly announced that they will veto any resolution that compels the disarmament of Iraq," Mr. Bush said. "These governments share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it."
Mr. Bush had conferred earlier in the day with top administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who raised the national threat level from "elevated" to "high" after Mr. Bush spoke.
Officials fear that members of al Qaeda, Iraqi state agents or disgruntled individuals will retaliate against an attack on Iraq with terrorist strikes against Americans or U.S. interests abroad.
"A large volume of reporting across a range of sources, some of which are highly reliable, indicates that al Qaeda probably would attempt to launch terrorist attacks against U.S. interests claiming they were defending Muslims or the Iraqi people rather than Saddam Hussein's regime," Mr. Ridge said in a statement.
Federal authorities said last night that the president's 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam has prompted more Border Patrol agents, now part of Homeland Security, to be assigned to guard the nation's ports of entry, including seaports and airports, along with nuclear power plants.
The effort, known as Operation Liberty Shield, also includes increased federal scrutiny of the nation's food supply, the authorities said.
The FBI also acknowledged last night the bureau had intensified surveillance of targeted foreign nationals in the United States, mainly Iraqis, to prevent acts of reprisal. Governors have been asked to deploy the National Guard and additional police forces.
The president devoted a portion of his speech to his vision of a post-Saddam Iraq, assuring Iraqis that "the tyrant will soon be gone" and that they will get food, medicine and help "to build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free."
"Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast, and I have a message for them: If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you," he said.
"In free Iraq, there will be no more wars of aggression against your neighbors, no more poison factories, no more executions of dissidents, no more torture chambers and rape rooms."
Mr. Bush made clear that although military action has not begun, Saddam has squandered his last chance at clinging to power by disarming.
"It is too late for Saddam Hussein to remain in power," the president said. "It is not too late for the Iraq military to act with honor and protect your country, by permitting the peaceful entry of coalition forces to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.
"Our forces will give Iraqi military units clear instructions on actions they can take to avoid being attack and destroyed," he added.
Although Mr. Bush had previously warned Iraqi commanders against using weapons of mass destruction, last night marked the first time he appealed to even the lowest ranking soldiers to lay down their arms. He also warned Iraqi civilians against wreaking havoc with the nation's infrastructure.
"Do not destroy oil wells, a source of wealth that belongs to the Iraqi people," the president said. "Do not obey any command to use weapons of mass destruction against anyone, including the Iraqi people."
The speech, expected to be his last until any war starts, came after a day in which the president worked the telephones to world leaders and huddled with congressional leaders. Hoping to convey an image of serene resolve, the president let photographers take images of him tossing balls on the South Lawn to his two dogs, Spot and Barney.
Mr. Bush's speech did persuade at least one foreign leader to back his ultimatum.
"Previously, U.S. President Bush made every effort to get international cooperation and … I think he made an inevitable decision. I support the U.S. policy," Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said early today.
For the most part, though, initial response suggested that the speech swayed few minds abroad, with reaction from nations such as France, Indonesia, China and Canada reiterating earlier positions in favor of more diplomacy.
President Vicente Fox of Mexico, Mr. Bush's longest-standing foreign friend, said last night that he "regretted" the U.S. stance, but said he hoped it would not damage Mexico's "friendly" relationship with Washington.
Audrey Hudson and Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide