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Saddam Rejects U.S. Ultimatum, Foreign Exodus Continues

BY Admin  March 18, 2003 at 3:55 PM EDT

Iraq’s decision to ignore the U.S. ultimatum came during a joint meeting of the Revolution Command Council — Iraq’s highest executive body — and the leadership of Saddam’s ruling Ba’ath party.

Iraq’s al-Shabab television, owned by Saddam’s son Uday, broadcast the meeting and showed Saddam, dressed in a military uniform, chairing the meeting.

“The meeting stressed that Iraq and all its sons were fully ready to confront the invading aggressors and repel them,” said a statement read by an announcer. “Iraq doesn’t choose its path through foreigners and doesn’t choose its leaders by decree from Washington, London or Tel Aviv.”

The cabinet statement also personally blasted President Bush, calling his coalition gathered against Iraq “pathetic.”

“The pathetic Bush was hoping … to achieve his evil targets without a fight through [his] declaration which reflects a state of isolation and defeat from which he and his pathetic allies are suffering from,” the statement from the meeting continued.

Uday Hussein also attacked the American president, accusing him of being “unstable” and saying Mr. Bush “should give up power in America with his family.”

In the United States, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer responded to the Iraqi statements, saying, “This is the latest mistake Iraq could make. It would be Saddam’s final mistake.”

During the briefing, Fleischer would not specifically rule out a U.S. attack before the president’s 48-hour clock ran out if the Iraqi leader rejected the exile offer.

The continuing war of words came as the international exodus out of Iraq continued. The Greek and French governments joined China, Germany and the Czech Republic in closing their embassies Tuesday.

The French ambassador, whose nation had built some business interests in Iraq and had opposed any military action, said he regretted leaving his embassy and its Iraqi employees.

“It is a feeling [of] impotence when the diplomats surrender and leave the place to the military. It is never a great success,” French Ambassador Andre Janier told reporters.

“We cannot but feel sad when we leave Iraqi employees and Iraqi friends behind, when we leave behind Iraqi people,” he added. “We will be in safety and we see around us what will happen to the people we are leaving behind. They have no safety, unfortunately.”

As diplomats were driving out of Iraq via neighboring Jordan, the United Nations was completing a swift air operation to bring out more than 300 workers.

“The last plane has taken off from Baghdad to Larnaca, Cyprus. At the end of the operation, more than 300 international staff will have departed,” U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Tuesday.

U.N. staffers, who participated in everything from humanitarian programs to weapons inspections, said they hoped to return soon.

“The withdrawal is considered temporary, and should there not be military action and some other solution to this crisis be found — some peaceful solution — we are ready to go right back to work,” Eckhard said.

Weapons inspectors, who had returned less than four months ago after a four-year absence, said they regretted the evacuation.

“There is a sense of sadness that the job we came to complete was not completed,” Hiro Ueki, spokesman for the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission told Reuters. “We did our best. We did our part. That’s all we can say.”

“The Iraqis we left back there are very sad. They know bad things are going to happen to them,” an inspector from an Asian nation told a Reuters reporter in Cyprus. “We could have averted a war.”

The U.N. evacuation also effectively suspends the oil-for-food program under which Iraq sells oil and uses the proceeds to buy food and other civilian goods. International reports have found that the program is likely the sole source of food for more than 60 percent of Iraqis.