U.S. waits for coup but doesn't expect it; Terror attack 'possible'

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

President George Bush has given Iraqi President Saddam Hussein until late Wednesday to take his sons and flee into exile. He also warned that Saddam and/or Al Qaida could launch a terrorist attack on the United States. Following the President's speech, the Homeland Security Department raised the U.S. threat level to Code Orange.

Officials said Bush's address was broadcast via Commando Solo aircraft to the Iraqi people. They said both Britain and the United States would broadcast constantly to the Iraqi military and people once the war begins.

"I urge every member of the Iraqi military and intelligence services, if war comes, do not fight for a dying regime that is not worth your own life," Bush said.

Officials said the administration doubts that Saddam will be overthrown by late Wednesday. But they said Bush's ultimatum and warning to the Iraqi military was meant to undermine the regime and ensure the collapse of Saddam's forces.

Analysts said such a prospect is slight. They said fear of Saddam remains strong, particularly in high levels of the regime.

"Unless coup participants can match the determination and ruthlessness of the regime they will probably fail," Jeffrey White, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former U.S. government intelligence analyst, said. "Ruthlessness is not lacking among Iraqi military commanders, but decisiveness and initiative are rarer qualities."

But Gulf Arab military experts said they expect the Iraqi military to quickly collapse whatever Saddam does. They said the regime and military would be destroyed within 72 hours amid massive U.S. bombing.

"The Saddam regime can not possibly survive the war for more than 72 hours at the most, and the liberation of Iraq as a whole would be over in a week," former Kuwaiti Air Force commander Air Vice Marshal Saber Al Sweidan said.

Bush said Saddam has aided Al Qaida and could be planning a series of attacks on the United States. Those attacks, he said, could include the use of biological or chemical weapons.

"These attacks are not inevitable," Bush said. "They are, however, possible."

After Bush's speech, the Homeland Security Department raised the threat level in the United States to Code Orange. The alert is one below that of war, and officials said it includes bolstered security at airports and increased Coast Guard patrols of major seaports.

Bush said the exile of Saddam and his sons, Uday and Qusay, is the only alternative to a war against Iraq. Bush gave Saddam 48 hours to flee but did not offer him immunity from war crimes prosecution.

"Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours," Bush said in a televised address on late Monday. "Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing."

Bush addressed the Iraqi military and urged troops to allow U.S. and allied forces to enter Baghdad. The president assured Iraqis that they will be supplied with food medicine, but warned that those who resist will be killed.

"It is too late for Saddam Hussein to remain in power," Bush said. "It is not too late for the Iraqi military to act with honor and protect your country by permitting the peaceful entry of coalition forces to eliminate weapons of mass destruction."

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