U.S. President George W. Bush says there will be serious consequences for Iraqi soldiers who use weapons of mass destruction against American troops or innocent civilians in the event of war. The president told an audience in St. Louis, Missouri, that those who do so will face war crimes tribunals.
Mr. Bush said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is a dangerous man who threatens America and the world by refusing to give up weapons of mass destruction. He warned that President Saddam will pay for his actions, and he sent a warning as well to the Iraqi military.
"There will be serious consequences for the dictator in Iraq," said Mr. Bush. "And there will be serious consequences for any Iraqi general or soldier who were to use weapons of mass destruction on our troops or on innocent lives within Iraq."
He said if an order is handed down to use such weapons, Iraqi forces must disobey. "Should any Iraqi officer or soldier receive an order from Saddam Hussein or his sons or any of the killers who occupy the high levels of their government, my advice is, don't follow that order. Because if you choose to do so, when Iraq is liberated, you will be treated, tried and persecuted as a war criminal," said President Bush.
The comments, while a repeat of remarks made several months ago, came at a critical time, as the Pentagon is building up troops in the region and U.N. Security Council members are raising doubts about the need for military action.
The president has signaled growing frustration in recent days. And in his speech in St. Louis, he deviated from the subject of the day, economic policy, to talk about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. He said it is time to hold the Iraqi leader to account. "He wants to play a game. For the sake of peace, we must not let him play a game," said President Bush.
Mr. Bush said the Security Council's disarmament resolution must be enforced. He made no direct mention of recent comments from council permanent members on a military confrontation. But the president made clear once again, that he is ready to act, if necessary, to disarm Iraq by force.
"We must not be fooled by the ways of the past," said Mr. Bush. "After all, we just discovered undeclared chemical warheads in Iraq. It's incredibly troubling and disturbing evidence of a man not disarming."
The president's comments were part of an escalating White House campaign to rally support for his position on Iraq both abroad and at home.
A new public opinion poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC television indicates a dip in support for his Iraqi policy among Americans, though the overall figures are still high. Fifty percent of those polled between January 16 and 20 said they approved of the president's handling of the situation, down from 58 percent about a month ago.
The White House downplayed the poll results. A senior administration official stressed that should the president opt for military action, he will get the support of a strong majority of the American people.