Thousands of U.S. troops have been moving across the Kuwaiti desert towards the Iraqi border as the deadline set by President Bush for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq draws near. The White House says it has seen no sign that the Iraqi leader is ready to go into exile, setting the stage for what looks to be an impending U.S. led invasion to topple his government.
The United States and Britain are making the final arrangements for a massive air and land assault on Iraq that could come at any time. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu, who's with American forces in northern Kuwait, reports U.S. troops are moving toward the Iraqi border with some already said to be in the demilitarized zone separating both countries.
"Long columns of U.S. military trucks and armored vehicles have been making their way to Kuwait's border with Iraq positioning themselves to move forward on short notice," she reported.
At the White House, Spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters that, despite an offer of asylum from Bahrain, there was no sign Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his two sons had accepted President Bush's ultimatum to leave the country by 8 PM eastern U.S. time Wednesday.
"We have not received, unfortunately, any indication from Saddam Hussein that he intends to leave the country," he said.
In fact, Iraq's deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz appeared on Iraqi television to dismiss rumors that he had fled the country and ruled out an 11th hour decision by Saddam Hussein's government to go into exile.
"We were born in Iraq and we will die in Iraq, either as martyrs which is a great honor, or naturally," he said.
But U.S. military officials say more than a dozen Iraqi soldiers have now surrendered to American forces along the country's border with Kuwait even before a single shot has been fired. The U.S. military dropped more leaflets in the area Wednesday, with instructions to Iraqi troops on how to surrender to coalition forces.
Hours before the arrival of Wednesday evening's deadline, President Bush notified Congress that all diplomatic efforts had failed, another sign that the commander in chief was on the brink of ordering troops into war.
At the United Nations, which gave no endorsement to a war to disarm Iraq, Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed regret for the coming battle.
"People around the world share the sense of disappointment and are deeply alarmed by the prospect of imminent war," he said.
But British ambassador Jeremy Greenstock had a reminder of how the world arrived at this moment.
"We should not forget what brought us to this point: The fundamental failure of Iraq to disarm in the face of twelve years of demands, pressure and pleas," he said.
Once President Bush orders military action, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the American people can expect him to make an Oval office address. That could come at any time.