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US Ready to Lead Coalition to Disarm Iraq Despite Opposition - 2003-03-15


President Bush says the United States is ready to lead a military coalition to force Iraq to disarm, despite significant opposition to such action within the U.N. Security Council. Mr. Bush made his remarks as he prepares to meet with the leaders of Britain and Spain to determine if there is a last-minute way to unite the United Nations on an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein.

In his weekly radio address, President Bush chronicled a list of atrocities committed by the Iraqi government and said the United States is continuing to work with the U.N. Security Council to confront what he called "this common danger."

"We have seen far too many instances in the past decade - from Bosnia, to Rwanda, to Kosovo - where the failure of the Security Council to act decisively has led to tragedy," the president said. "And we must recognize that some threats are so grave, and their potential consequences so terrible, that they must be removed, even if it requires military force."

Mr. Bush said there is little reason to believe that Saddam Hussein will voluntarily disarm.

The president indicated a decision on whether to wage war against the Baghdad government will come very soon.

"Crucial days lie ahead for the free nations of the world," Mr. Bush said. "Governments are now showing whether their stated commitments to liberty and security are words alone or convictions they are prepared to act upon."

"And for the government of the United States and the coalition we lead, there is no doubt," he warned, " we will confront a growing danger, to protect ourselves, to remove a patron and protector of terror, and to keep the peace of the world."

As the president spoke, anti-war rallies were held in cities across the United States and around the world.

In Baghdad, demonstrators burned American flags and vowed to defend Saddam Hussein in the event of a U.S.-led attack.

In Washington, protesters marched to show support for alternatives to military action against Iraq.

"We believe that, right now, the people of the United States and around the world who are for peace had held back the carnage," said Mara Verheden-Hillard, of the Partnership for Civil Justice, a group which helped organize the anti-war protests. "They have stopped this administration from waging a war that doesn't serve the people of the United States. We don't think the sons and daughters of the United States, or the sons and daughters of Washington, D.C., should be sent to kill and be killed for a war that only serves the oil interests and the corporate buddies of the Bush administration."

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says war with Iraq is now much more probable.

Mr. Straw says time is running out for Saddam Hussein to give up his weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq denies it has any weapons of mass destruction, and says it is cooperating with U.N. weapons inspections. On Saturday, Baghdad invited the chief U.N. weapons inspectors to visit at the "earliest possible date" to examine ways of accelerating cooperation.

The invitation comes a day before President Bush meets in the Azores with the prime ministers of Britain and Spain to discuss Iraq.

The leaders are to hold talks on diplomatic efforts to gain U.N. Security Council backing for a resolution setting a deadline for Baghdad to disarm, or face military action.

There is major opposition to the resolution from countries including France, Russia and China, which all have veto power as permanent members of the Security Council.