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Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.


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Monday, March 17

Bush gives Saddam 48 hours to flee or face war

By John Yaukey

WASHINGTON - President Bush moved the nation to the brink of war with Iraq Monday night, giving Saddam Hussein 48 hours to flee his homeland or face invasion by 250,000 troops now poised on his borders.

??Saddam and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours,?? Bush said from the White House. ??Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict at a time of our choosing. ?The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now.??

In preparation for potential reprisals to a war, the Bush administration raised the nation?s terrorist threat rating from yellow or "significant risk" to orange or "high risk," the second highest level behind red.

Earlier in the day, American diplomats at the United Nations withdrew from efforts there to disarm Saddam peacefully while administration officials warned Americans in Iraq to leave immediately.

If there is a war, Bush said the United States would do everything possible to limit civilian casualties.

"We will deliver the food and medicine you need,?? he said, speaking to the Iraqi people.

Bush also told the Iraqi people that after Saddam is ousted their tremendous oil wealth would be used to rebuild their economy and establish democracy.

??We will help you to build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free,?? he said. ??The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near.??

Iraq?s Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf called the case for war ??an illegitimate one built on mounds of American propaganda.??

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan responded to recent developments by ordering the U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq to leave immediately.

The administration blatantly signaled that it intends to act outside the United Nations early Monday by withdrawing a proposed resolution submitted to the Security Council that would have authorized the use of force against Iraq.

The resolution, which had been debated for weeks, was scrapped after France, one of the five permanent members of the council, stood firm in its promise to veto any resolution that sanctioned war.

"In the light of the threat of a veto, we decided under the circumstance not to put that resolution to a vote," said John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. "One permanent member (France) was intent on frustrating the purposes of our resolution."

France leads a Security Council contingent including Germany, Russia and China that believes the weapons inspections in Iraq that started Nov. 27 are working and should be continued possibly for several more months.

Bush has maintained almost since the start of the inspections that Saddam will not voluntarily disarm, and that war might be the only option to ensure that he gives up his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

Annan said the decision to close the door on diplomacy and move outside the Security Council would raise troubling questions about the international legality of a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"If the action is to take place without the support of the council, its legitimacy will be questioned," Annan grimly warned.

Bush stressed that the United States was within its rights to use military action against Iraq under Security Council Resolution 1441. Passed Nov. 8, the resolution orders Iraq to disarm or face "serious consequences," which Bush has maintained means war if necessary.

"This is not a question of authority, it?s a question of will," Bush said.

The president, meanwhile, faced harsh words in Washington for what one leading Democrat called a failure of U.S. diplomacy.

"I'm saddened," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle told members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Monday afternoon. "I'm saddened that the president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we are forced to war."

Despite the U.S. decision to exit the Security Council process, France and its council allies continued to press for more diplomacy on a number of fronts.

Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, France?s ambassador to the United Nations, said he hopes the Security Council will convene a meeting of the foreign ministers of its member nations in a final effort to reach agreement on continued weapons inspections.

"It is possible to disarm Iraq through peaceful means," he said. "The inspections are making progress."

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin remained steadfast in his position that war in Iraq now would be highly destabilizing in the region.

"Our position has not changed," he said. "Any other position would be a mistake."

Anti-war council members also argued that the United States should delay any major decisions at least until after lead weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei deliver yet another progress report on their work Wednesday.

In their last report on March 7, Blix and El Baradei told the Security Council Iraq is improving its cooperation with inspectors and that disarmament could be done in months.

(Contributing: GNS correspondent Jon Frandsen)