- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

President Bush praised yesterday the "skill and great bravery" of U.S. forces waging war in Iraq as his spokesman insisted that "it is not too late" for Iraqi generals to disobey Saddam Hussein's orders by surrendering.
"There's no question we've sent the finest of our citizens into harm's way," Mr. Bush said at his first wartime Cabinet meeting since the conflict with Iraq began. "They perform with great skill and great bravery. We thank them. We thank their loved ones. We appreciate their sacrifice."
The president announced that the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq had grown from 35 nations to "over 40" since the war began late Wednesday. The White House later produced a list of 44 nations, including the United States and its three newest allies in the campaign against Iraq: Micronesia, Uganda and the Marshall Islands.
Eager to counter critics who have accused him of unilateralism, Mr. Bush called the United States' allies the "ever-growing coalition of the willing, nations who support our deep desire for peace and freedom." He added: "We are grateful for their determination, we appreciate their vision and we welcome their support."
The White House took a veiled swipe at France and Germany for opposing the U.S.-led war. Without naming names, Mr. Fleischer contrasted these Western Europe nations unfavorably with countries in Eastern Europe.
"It's no accident that many members of this coalition recently escaped from tyranny and oppression," the spokesman said. "They understand what is at stake in bringing freedom and liberation to the Iraqi people."
Asked by The Washington Times whether France has forgotten what it's like to live under tyranny and oppression, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer pointed out that Eastern Europeans "knew what it was like to live under the thumb of others.
"They see in the Iraqi people a history that they themselves suffered through recently."
The White House said U.S. troops make up roughly 85 percent of allied ground forces against Iraq, compared with about 75 percent during the 1991 Gulf war. But administration officials emphasized that many allies are providing help without committing ground troops.
For example, Turkey's parliament granted overflight rights to U.S. warplanes yesterday. Last month, the parliament refused to give staging rights to U.S. ground troops who wanted to mount a northern front against Iraq.
The White House singled out Turkey for praise yesterday, even though France has also granted overflight rights and did not wait until after the war had begun. Yet, unlike Turkey, France was excluded from the White House list of coalition members, which also did not include Germany, China, Russia and Israel.
Still, the administration emphasized the collective clout of the nations supporting the United States.
"All told, the population of the coalition of the willing is approximately 1.18 billion people around the world," Mr. Fleischer said. "The coalition countries have a combined GDP of approximately $21.7 trillion.
"Every major race, religion and ethnic group in the world is represented," he added. "The coalition includes nations from every continent on the globe."
The president was briefed on the status of the coalition by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. He also heard from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, "who briefed us on the early stages of the war," Mr. Bush said.
Also yesterday, the president signed an executive order directing the Treasury Department to seize $1.74 billion in Iraqi assets frozen in the United States.
The assets, which the U.S. government froze in 1990, are sitting in accounts at 18 U.S. banks, including Citigroup, Bank of America and Wachovia.
Treasury officials said the funds would go to the Iraqi people for humanitarian purposes once Saddam is ousted from power.
Mr. Bush's order "authorizes Treasury to marshal the assets, and to use the funds for the benefit and welfare of the Iraqi people," Treasury Secretary John W. Snow said.

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