- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) — President George W. Bush, again indicating his exasperation with Iraq and allies who argue United Nations weapons inspections should continue indefinitely, said Wednesday it was time for the world and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to be held to account in the standoff over Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam, he said, was playing hide-and-seek with inspectors as in the past over his suspected weapons of mass destruction and was playing for time instead of disarming.

"I hope the world has learned the lessons from the past, just like Saddam Hussein has learned the lessons from the past, but in a different way," Bush said.

"It's time for us to hold the world to account, and for Saddam to be held to account. We must not be fooled by the ways of the past."

The comments, made during an appearance in St. Louis to highlight his economic growth package, did nothing to dispel a public mood that possible war with Iraq was near.

Last week, in impromptu remarks to reporters, Bush said he was "sick and tired" of Saddam's games and deceptions; on Monday, he said France's call for long-term inspections and opposition to any use of force to ensure disarmament was "a rerun of a bad movie, and I'm not interested in watching it."

Next Monday, U.N. weapons inspectors give their first substantive report to the Security Council on the results of two months on the ground in Iraq following a four-year hiatus. The next day Bush delivers to Congress his State of the Union address, which many speculate will mark the beginning of the final countdown to military action by the more than 130,000 U.S. troops that will be in the Gulf region within the next few weeks.

The president, who insists he has not yet made a decision on military action, on Wednesday also had a special message for the Iraqi military: If any Iraqi officer or soldier uses chemical or biological weapons against U.S. or allied troops if there is a military conflict, they face prosecution for war crimes.

"My hope is that Saddam Hussein will disarm voluntarily," Bush said Wednesday. "That is my hope.

"But should that path (of war) be forced upon us, there will be serious consequences. There will be serious consequences for Saddam Hussein. There will be serious consequences for any Iraqi general or soldier who were to use weapons of mass destruction on our troops or on innocent lives within Iraq."

Bush said he would advise that any Iraqi officer or soldier who receives an order to use chemical or biological weapons, not follow the order. If you chose to do so, they would be "treated, tried and (prosecuted) as a war criminal" when the war was over.

"The consequences for the Iraqi people," he added, would be "freedom from oppression" and murder.

The Bush administration Tuesday launched of an apparent campaign to gin up renewed public support for a tough stance against Iraqi.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in a speech in Washington Tuesday, said peaceful options for disarming Iraq were about exhausted and that Baghdad could not be trusted to carry out any agreement it may make. Underlining the characterization of unreliability was a special document distributed, which chronicled what the White House called previous instances of Iraqi deception and deceit.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was expected to make similar remarks Thursday in New York, and the president himself in his State of the Union address.

Also on Tuesday, Bush created the Office of Global Communications within the White House to coordinate Washington's message to the world, especially the Arab and Muslim world.

The United States maintains that Iraq possesses proscribed weapons of mass destruction, never having accounted for the stocks of chemical and biological agents it was known to have in the late 1990s in violation of U.N. mandates.

Saddam was a "real threat" to America, Bush said, because of his long history of violating international mandates, his past use of such weapons and the danger Iraq would become a conduit for such materials to terrorist groups.

"He is a dangerous man with dangerous weapons," Bush said Wednesday. "He's a danger to America and its allies."

Last September, Bush, with a congressional resolution authorizing unilateral military action against Iraq if necessary, went to the United Nations and challenged it to enforce its resolutions in regard to Iraq.

If the international body proved an ineffectual League of Nations — referring to UN predecessor that operated from 1920-1946 — the United States would act alone or with a "coalition of the willing," he said.

In other developments, a Washington Post-ABC News poll published Wednesday indicated a dip in public support, although the numbers are still positive for the president.

According to the poll, 57 percent of those questioned back U.S. military action against Iraq, down from 62 percent last month; 50 percent approved his handling of the Iraq situation, down from 58 percent.

Fifty-eight percent wanted to see more evidence against Iraq, while 71 percent said the United States should make public all its evidence.

When asked if weapons inspectors should be given as much time as they want to continue searching Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, 43 percent responded in the positive. When the period was changed to several months, 24 percent said yes; when it period was a few weeks or less, 26 percent were in the affirmative.

The telephone poll of 1,133 randomly selected people was conducted Jan. 16-Jan.20. The margin of error was given as plus/minus 3 percentage points.

"The president believes that a strong majority of Americans agree with him that it's important Saddam Hussein disarm; and that if Saddam Hussein does not disarm on his own, he (Bush) will lead a coalition to disarm Saddam Hussein with the support of a large majority of the country," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said about the poll.

"The American people see the threat the same way the president does," he added.

"There should be no misunderstanding the position of the American people on this. Pollsters can ask every type of follow-up question they want, but the basic fundamentals are unchanged, and that is the strong majority of the American people are willing to support military action if it comes down to that."

Before the Gulf War of 1991, sparked by Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait, polling indicated 45 percent of the public supported conflict, but the numbers rose quickly when action began, the Washington Post quoted one polling analyst as saying.

The assured sentiment of a surge in support if war comes was also echoed by a senior administration official, who spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity: "If the president goes to the country (to explain his action), I think you can expect the strong majorities that currently exist to actually go up," the official said.

"I think history shows that in the event that the president makes his case to the country, the numbers have a tendency to actually go up."

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