Saddam still defiant

24 hours left to Bush deadline: Quit Iraq or face war

UNITED States President George W. Bush gave President Saddam Hussein and his sons 48 hours to get out of Iraq or face war, but the Iraqi strongman rejected the ultimatum and declared himself ready to go down fighting.

He appeared in full military uniform on Iraqi television, which said the country was prepared to repel any invaders. The deadline is 9.15 am tomorrow, Singapore time. If Mr Saddam is still in Baghdad, America will unleash its military might against him.

Mr Bush, speaking from the White House, was unflinching as he told the American people they had to go to war because peaceful efforts to disarm Iraq had failed again and again.

He said the United Nations had not ‘lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours’. ‘This is not a question of authority, it is a question of will,’ he said in a bold assertion of the ‘Bush Doctrine’ of pre-emptive action.

Mr Bush said the US had the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security and warned that Saddam and radical groups linked to him, like the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, might conduct terrorist acts against the US during the coming hostilities.

‘Before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed,’ he said. The US was on anti-terror alert, and the White House was cordoned off, as all government buildings bristled with phalanxes of anti-terrorist police, guard dogs and patrol cars.

Mr Bush argued that an alternative policy of appeasement might well lead to chemical, biological and nuclear attacks by the likes of Mr Saddam. To sit idly by and respond to such acts only after they had occurred ‘is not self-defence, it is suicide’, he said.

Dismissing the US ultimatum, Saddam’s elder son Uday said it was Mr Bush who should resign and leave the US with his family.

He warned: ‘The wives and mothers of those Americans who will fight us will weep blood, not tears. They should not imagine that they will have a safe spot inside the land of Iraq or outside it.’

The Iraqi reaction came as no surprise to observers.

Dr Amatzia Baram, of the Washington-based Brookings Institute, said that Saddam’s ‘incurable optimism’ had led him to miscalculate and make mistakes in the past. But surviving major blunders such as the Iran-Iraq conflict and the 1991 Gulf War had fuelled his self-confidence.

Dr Shafiq Al-Ghabra, of the Centre for Strategic Studies in Kuwait, said that the enormous firepower lined up against Iraq would not have any effect on him.

‘This is a man who thinks he can live through anything. By some skewed logic, he is probably thinking now that he will survive this battle against the Americans.’

US intelligence sources believe that his strategy for thwarting an attack calls for slowing the advance of enemy troops before fighting a bloody street battle in Baghdad.

Advancing allied forces are likely to encounter two defensive rings of elite Republican Guards armed with chemical weapons. There are also plans to blow up dams, destroy bridges and burn oil fields.

Military analyst Shafiq said: ‘What does all this tell you? He wants to confront his aggressors rather than give in.’ World reaction to the American ultimatum was largely negative, with several countries warning the US against launching a war which did not have the clear backing of the UN or world opinion.

But financial markets heaved a sigh of collective relief at the end of the diplomatic stalemate over Iraq. Asian stock markets surged yesterday after similar gains in America, while oil prices fell by as much as 10 per cent.

In Kuwait, US Army Commander William Wallace declared that American forces would win a decisive victory within ‘days, maybe weeks’ of receiving the go-ahead to strike.

That order could come within 24 hours, when Mr Bush addresses the US again.

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