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19 March 2003

As Deadline Expires, U.S. Prepares for Military Action

(Iraqis urged not to obey orders, not to engage in conflict) (920)
By Wendy S. Ross and Alicia K. Langley
Washington File White House Correspondents


Washington -- In the final hours before the 48-hour deadline to Saddam
Hussein was to expire at 0100 GMT March 20, White House Press
Secretary Ari Fleischer said the White House had little hope that the
dictator would leave Iraq.


"At 8 o'clock tonight, the American people will know Saddam Hussein
has committed his final act of defiance," Fleischer told reporters.
"With just a short amount of time to go before the deadline, we have
not received, unfortunately, any indication from Saddam Hussein that
he intends to leave the country."

Fleischer told reporters to "assume you will not have a lot of
notification prior to the speech" that Bush will make notifying the
nation and the world that military action has begun.

The reason for this, Fleischer said, is "to maintain as much tactical
secrecy as possible."

Fleischer said the president was spending the day "working with the
military planners, taking last-minute looks at the various plans of
the military planners, and allowing the time that he has given to
pass."

In a televised speech to the nation and the world on the evening of
March 17, Bush told Saddam Hussein he and his two sons had 48 hours to
leave Iraq if they wished to avoid military conflict.

"And if force is used, the president will authorize force, knowing
that it was in the cause of peace to disarm Saddam Hussein from using
his weapons of mass destruction, so that Saddam Hussein cannot use
weapons of mass destruction later at a time and place of Saddam's
choosing, which would leave us at the most vulnerable," Fleischer
said.

He pointed out that "we seem to have gone from a debate at the United
Nations process where people said, 'you haven't proved he has weapons
of mass destruction, the inspectors haven't been able to find where
Saddam is hiding them,' to now rampant speculation that Saddam Hussein
has chemical, biological weapons that he is getting ready to unleash
on American forces."

"That's the very point," Fleischer said. "If he has them, the world
cannot afford to let Saddam pick who he would use them on and when he
would use them, especially if the world was not prepared to take
counter-measures."

Asked to predict how long the military action would take, Fleischer
said "It's impossible to say. It will be as long as is necessary to do
the job right, to provide the security atmosphere for Iraqis to govern
their own country. It will be as long as is necessary, but not a day
longer."

Fleischer reported that in the morning of March 19 Bush had his
regular intelligence briefings, met with the National Security
Council, and met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who briefed
him on the latest preparations for military operations.

The previous evening, the White House sent a document to Congress
which explains the legal justifications for taking military action in
Iraq, a step that was required by a resolution passed by Congress last
fall.

"The resolution states that prior to hostilities or within 48 hours
after hostilities, these determinations must be made from a legal
point of view," Fleischer said.

"These are the determinations that reliance by the United States on
diplomatic and other peaceful means alone will not adequately protect
the national security of the United States against the continuing
threat posed by Iraq nor likely lead to enforcement of United Nations
Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq," Fleischer said.

"Clearly, one of the major concerns we have is that we are up against
an enemy who may use chemical or biological weapons," Fleischer told
reporters. "This is why there have been so many efforts made to reach
out to the Iraqi generals and leaders to tell them, 'don't obey orders
to use weapons of mass destruction'"

The U.S. military has been sending messages through pamphlets to both
the Iraqi public and military, he said. "The message is, 'you should
not engage in conflict, you should not conduct yourselves in a hostile
manner, you should not obey orders.'"

Fleischer said President Bush's message to Iraqi forces is, "this is
not your war. Don't follow the orders of the regime."

"The Iraqi people are the innocents who are caught in between, and the
president would very much like to see the Iraqi people save their
lives, the Iraqi military save their lives by laying down their arms
and by not following their orders," Fleischer added.

President Bush made a morning phone call to British Prime Minister
Tony Blair, congratulating him on his victory in a vote by the British
Parliament.

"The president is very pleased that the Parliament of the United
Kingdom has demonstrated its strong support for Prime Minister Blair,
Prime Minister Blair's leadership, Prime Minister Blair's efforts to
disarm Saddam Hussein to protect peace," Fleischer said. Bush and
Blair also consulted with one another on the road map to peace in the
Middle East.

In what the White House called an "important development" required for
efforts toward that peace, the Palestinian parliament formally
established the position of prime minister. Fleischer said President
Bush is "pleased with the internal progress that is being made in
terms of the Palestinians seeking internal reforms." He said the next
step would be the acceptance of the position by candidate Mahmoud
Abbas or the confirmation.

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)