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Bush Discusses Next Phase of War with Advisors - 2003-03-20

The White House says it is drawing no conclusions about the authenticity of a television appearance by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein following the start of a U.S.-led war to topple the government and disarm the military.

President Bush began the day with a briefing on overnight developments in Iraq before meeting with senior cabinet officials to discuss the next phase of the war.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the president signed an "execute order" late Wednesday authorizing military commanders to take action. They began just before dawn Thursday in Baghdad with missile strikes on sites where U.S.-intelligence officials believed senior Iraqi leaders were meeting.

Shortly after, Iraqi television showed what appeared to be a defiant Saddam Hussein rallying his country against attack.

Mr. Fleischer says the Bush administration has reached "no conclusions" about when that might have been taped or if it was indeed Saddam Hussein himself who delivered the remarks. The Iraqi leader is reported to have used body doubles in the past.

Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday called on Washington to stop the war, saying it is a mistake with grave consequences for all. Russia joined France in opposing U.S. efforts to pass another U.N. resolution against Iraq because those countries said weapons inspections should continue.

President Bush eventually decided to withdraw that resolution and conduct a war on the strength of existing U.N. decisions as well as a U.S. Congressional resolution authorizing him to use force against Iraq if diplomacy fails.

The president assembled what he calls a "coalition of the willing" to attack Iraq. There are now more than 30 members of that coalition, and Mr. Fleischer says that number is growing.

Announcing the start of hostilities in a nationwide address Wednesday evening, the president thanked coalition members for what he called their "crucial support" in sharing intelligence, deploying combat units, and allowing for the use of naval and air bases.

"Every nation in this coalition has chosen to bear the duty and share the honor of serving in our common defense," he said.

China, Germany, and France Thursday joined the Vatican in deploring the U.S. attacks. Iran, India, and Pakistan also voiced their opposition.

U.S. allies including the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain and Australia say the attacks were justified.

Mr. Fleischer says the president is heartened by the international support for disarming Iraq. He says Mr. Bush understands and respects the thoughts of those who disagree with the military operation but says the United States and its coalition will not be deterred from their mission of disarming Saddam Hussein.