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Iraq Rejects President Bush's Ultimatum - 2003-03-18


Iraq has rejected President Bush's ultimatum that Saddam Hussein and his sons leave the country by mid-week or face a U.S.-led invasion.

Saddam Hussein and son Uday turned down President Bush's ultimatum to depart Iraq by Thursday and Iraqi state television said the country is prepared to defend itself against an invasion.

The response came only hours after President Bush told the world he was giving the Iraqi leader 48 hours to leave the country or face the prospect of war. "The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near," Mr. Bush said.

The president met Tuesday with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in what was described as a last-minute planning session.

Public opinion polls in the wake of the president's speech indicated that Mr. Bush had bolstered domestic support for disarming Iraq by force.

Members of Congress from both political parties are rallying behind the president, but a number of Democrats remain critical of the president for abandoning a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

"I'm saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we are now forced to war," said Senate Democratic Leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Overseas, reaction to the Bush ultimatum has been mixed.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair sought to win over skeptical members of his own Labor Party in the House of Commons. "Yes, it is true Iraq is not the only country with weapons of mass destruction. But I say to the House [of Commons], back away from this confrontation now and future conflicts will be infinitely worse and more devastating in their effects," Mr. Blair said.

France and Germany condemned the ultimatum, saying the threat posed by Iraq does not justify war at this time. Both Russia and China said diplomatic efforts on Iraq should continue despite the growing threat of war.

But there was support for the U.S. position as well. Japan said the U.S. ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was unavoidable and Australia offered to send troops to join U.S.-led coalition forces.

If President Bush does order an invasion of Iraq, U.S. military officials say they are ready to proceed.

"We're ready. We have been ready for a while and we are ready now. We have about 700 aircraft in the area and we have about 35,000-40,000 airmen there. And We are set. We are ready to go," said Air Force Secretary James Roche on NBC's Today program.

About 300,000 U.S. and British troops are now in the Persian Gulf, watching the hours tick by as they await orders from their commanders.