- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein yesterday rejected President Bush's demand that he leave the country by tonight, even as the United States said the coalition supporting war against Iraq had grown to 45 countries.
Other signs of support for U.S. war aims included a growing number of backers in the British Parliament as well as a French offer of help in the event that Iraq uses weapons of mass destruction.
Turkey, in a reversal of course, announced that it would ask its parliament in a vote today to approve U.S. planes to use its airsapce on their way to Iraq. A second motion would allow the deployment of Turkish troops to Iraq. The announcement was made after consulting with the United States, which for now agreed to drop its push for the stationing of American soldiers in Turkey.
As 280,000 U.S. and British troops spent their last prewar hours at the Iraq-Kuwait border, Saddam dismissed Mr. Bush's demand that he and his sons leave Iraq within 48 hours.
Iraqi state television quoted Saddam as telling his Cabinet that "Iraq and all its sons were fully ready to confront the invading aggressors and repel them."
At the United Nations, Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri said that if war starts, all Americans would be at risk no matter where they are.
"This is a war, my dear," he told a Reuters television reporter. "This is a war. So how can you have a safe place in the war?"
At the State Department, officials said 30 countries had now agreed to be named publicly as supporting the war and, although only a few will have a combat role, many have offered the use of territory and airspace or expertise in dealing with chemical weapons attacks.
"We now have a coalition of the willing that includes some 30 nations who have publicly said they can be included in such a listing," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in an interview with wire service reporters.
"There are 15 other nations who, for one reason or another, do not yet wish to be publicly named but will be supporting the coalition," he said, adding that they would be identified "in due course."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher later told reporters that "these are countries that we have gone to and said, 'Do you want to be listed?' and they have said yes."
President Bush yesterday set about patching up strained relations with other countries. He spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by telephone and reached out to the new Chinese president, Hu Jintao, to discuss Iraq and North Korea.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin "did stress to each other the importance of maintaining good U.S.-Russian relations," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
Although Mr. Bush made no overture to French President Jacques Chirac, Mr. Fleischer emphasized that "even in the thick of the disagreement" at the United Nations, Paris had participated in the war against terrorism.
He also cited France's willingness to share terrorist-related information.
In London last night, the House of Commons voted 412-149 in favor of a government-sponsored resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
Despite opposition from 149 House members, most of them from Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party, there were 50 fewer no votes compared with a similar vote earlier this month.
In another boost for Mr. Blair, Development Secretary Claire Short dropped her threat to resign if Britain went to war without a new U.N. resolution. Two junior ministers left the Cabinet, however, joining former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who was leader of the House of Commons.
Despite more condemnation from Mr. Chirac about a U.S.-led war on Iraq, France signaled that it could participate in the campaign if Iraq unleashed weapons of mass destruction against allied forces.
"If Saddam uses chemical or biological weapons, it will change completely the situation for the French president and government, and President Chirac will have to decide what we will do to help the American troops to confront this new situation," Jean-David Levitte, the French ambassador to Washington, said in a CNN interview.
A Pentagon spokesman said yesterday that there is a "high risk" of such a chemical or biological attack, but chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said at a New York news conference that he doubted that Iraq would do anything to jeopardize the international support it now enjoys.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa had planned a last-minute trip to Baghdad to try to persuade Saddam to leave but canceled the plan in the face of deep divisions among the Arab nations.
"Due to developments we've witnessed in the last few hours, it won't be possible for the secretary-general to visit Baghdad," Moussa spokesman Hisham Youssef said.
In addition to Britain, only Australia and Denmark have offered troops for the military operation, while Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia are ready to send noncombat forces specializing in chemical- and biological-warfare decontamination.
Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, Spain and Croatia have allowed the use of airspace and bases, and Japan has expressed interest in helping with postwar reconstruction.
Although Bulgaria was on a list of backers released by the State Department immediately after Mr. Powell's interview, the East European nation was missing from a "definitive list" released later by Mr. Boucher.
Bulgaria was the only member of the U.N. Security Council to support publicly the U.S.-British-Spanish draft resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, which was never put to a vote. U.S. aircraft are using Bulgarian airspace and a base on the Black Sea for refueling.
The Bulgarian ambassador to Washington, Elena Poptodorova, said yesterday that she was surprised that her country was not on the State Department list and confirmed that Bulgaria will support the military operation in any way it can.
Mr. Boucher said a number of countries on the list, such as Ethiopia, Eritrea and El Salvador, agreed to be named even though they could offer little practical assistance.
"In addition to [the 30] countries, there are actually another 15 or so that we know of, probably more than 15, that are cooperating with us and the coalition, are perhaps offering defensive assets in the event that Saddam resorts to the use of weapons of mass destruction," the spokesman said.
The 30 nations, together with the United States, represent about 1.1 billion people, about a sixth of the world's population.
The list includes no governments in the Arab world, although states in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council are giving logistical support to the U.S. forces expected to invade.
The only mainly Muslim countries in the coalition are Albania, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Mr. Boucher noted that the coalition list remains open to other nations.

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