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U.S., Iraq Prepare For War

U.S., Iraq Prepare For War

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(AP) Hours before the deadline set by President Bush, Saddam Hussein gave no sign of yielding, and long columns of U.S. armored vehicles moved through swirling Kuwaiti sand storms Wednesday toward Iraq's border.

In Baghdad, fortified by trenches and sandbags, streets were quieter than usual, with light traffic and some shops shuttered. Saddam ordered residents to stack wood and oil barrels to be set afire in hopes of concealing targets from bombardment.

Iraq's rubber-stamp parliament, at a special session, rejected the U.S. ultimatum and reaffirmed support for Saddam. The idea that he would flee into exile "is absolutely unthinkable," said Speaker Saadoon Hammadi.

Just across Iraq's southern border, U.S. and British troops piled ammunition and combat gear into fighting vehicles and broke camp, ready to invade on short notice. One major deployment involved the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division -- its 20,000 soldiers and thousands of vehicles were ordered to positions close to the border.

In all, about 300,000 troops were within striking distance of Iraq, backed by more than 1,000 warplanes. A strong sand storm swept in Wednesday, affecting several units, hampering movement and visibility.

"We are one day closer to making history," Col. Michael Linnington, commander of the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade, told his officers at a briefing Wednesday morning.

Aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Mediterranean, combat pilots and others were ordered to snooze through the day Wednesday so they could work through the night.

"It's time for us to do what we were trained to do," said Lt. Matt Arnold, 33, of Virginia Beach, Va.

The deadline set by Bush for Saddam to go into exile was 8 p.m. EST, which would be 4 a.m. Thursday in Baghdad.

At a news conference, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf accused U.S. officials of lying to their troops about the losses they would suffer. The notion that invading Iraq "will be like a picnic" is "a stupid idea," he said.

Though U.S. defense officials hope for a quick victory, with minimal casualties on both sides, they raised the possibility that Iraq would use chemical weapons. Pentagon officials said intelligence reports suggest Saddam has given field commanders authority to use such weapons.

The top American general in Kuwait, Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, warned against any such tactics. "It would be a hugely bad choice on the part of any Iraqi leader or commander to employ chemical weapons," he said.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said he does not believe Saddam's government would use chemical or biological weapons even as a last resort because it would turn world opinion in favor of the United States. "Some people care about their reputation even after death," Blix said.

Around the globe, governments tried to adjust to the seeming inevitability of war.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a special Cabinet meeting that his nation is "100 percent" prepared for a possible Iraqi attack. The military completed a call-up of 11,000 reservists, while citizens sealed rooms in their homes in case there was a chemical or biological attack.

In London, the House of Commons backed British Prime Minister Tony Blair's strong endorsement of Bush's policy. Blair has suffered in public opinion over his support for the president, and three ministers resigned from his Labor Party government this week in protest.

Another of Bush's staunchest allies, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, requested his Parliament's authorization for U.S.-led forces to use Italian air space and military bases -- but not for launching directs attacks on Iraq. The request was expected to be approved despite jeers and catcalls from much of the leftist opposition.

In Turkey, the government said it would ask Parliament to let U.S. planes use Turkish airspace in the event of war but would not immediately ask lawmakers to approve the entry of American troops. Cabinet spokesman Cemil Cicek said a resolution allowing airspace rights would be put to a vote by Thursday.

Last month, Turkish lawmakers rebuffed a proposal to let in tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers to open a northern front against Iraq.

The Bush administration says 30 nations have joined the "coalition of the willing" backing a war to topple Saddam, with 15 more nations quietly pledging support. However, several of the 30 nations have ruled out contributing combat troops.

Confident that Saddam will be overthrown swiftly, the United States and Britain are working on a plan to use Iraqi oil proceeds from a $40 billion U.N.-controlled account to pay for humanitarian relief during a war.

The proposal is to be presented soon after war begins, diplomats and U.N. officials told The Associated Press. The plan would alleviate U.S. and British financial responsibilities for caring for millions of Iraqis.

Some determined opponents of the war -- including a group of black members of Congress -- refused to abandon hopes for a diplomatic settlement. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said black lawmakers had asked to meet with Bush but were rebuffed.

Pope John Paul II, who for weeks has been appealing for peace, prayed Wednesday for those "those people threatened in these hours by war."

In Baghdad, shelves in many shops were nearly empty after store owners moved their merchandise to warehouses, fearing bombing or looting.

The diplomatic exodus continued, with ambassadors from Greece and France taking the overland road to Jordan. Diplomats from China, Germany and the Czech Republic left earlier in the week.

Royal Jordanian Airlines -- the only commercial airline with regularly scheduled flights to Baghdad -- said it was canceling them.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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