Mr. Bush said, ”All the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end.”
“Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict commenced at a time of our choosing.”
Saying that U.S. intelligence “leaves no doubt” that Iraq “continues to possess and conceal” weapons of mass destruction, he told a national audience that the government in Baghdad remains a threat to the world through its alleged sponsorship of terrorist groups.
“The danger is clear. Using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country or any other,” the president said.
Because of such dangers, the president said, the U.S. has the “sovereign authority” to use force to disarm Iraq. A force of some 250,000 U.S.-led troops has already amassed in the Persian Gulf region should the president give the go-ahead for war.
“Instead of drifting along toward tragedy, we will set a course toward safety,” the president added.
During his address, the president said that U.S. homeland security officials are preparing to combat a possible terrorist backlash from a military strike in Iraq, saying they had already begun to fortify security at airports, seaports and “critical facilities” across the country.
Shortly after Mr. Bush’s speech, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge increased the nation’s terrorist alert level to its second-highest level — a move that instructs federal agencies and law enforcement teams to step up security efforts.
The president also spoke in his address to the Iraqi people, saying the U.S. would work to “build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free” after removing Saddam Hussein.
“If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you,” Mr. Bush said.
However, the president also warned Iraqis that they should not fight with Saddam’s army, or participate in a campaign to set fire to oil fields as fleeing Iraqi soldiers did in Kuwait at the end of the 1991 Gulf War.
“War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished and it will be no defense to say, ‘I was just following orders’,” the president said.
Earlier Monday, the U.S. and its allies ended efforts to seek a diplomatic solution to the Iraq crisis at the United Nations.
U.S. and allied officials had attempted to convince members of the world body to adopt a resolution setting a strict deadline for Iraqi disarmament. However some Security Council nations, most vocally France — a permanent member with veto powers, threatened to scuttle the resolution, arguing that the U.N. should allow weapons inspectors to continue guiding Iraq toward disarmament.
Although the president said the U.S. “believe[s] in the mission of the United Nations,” he delivered a rebuke to the nations who refused to back a resolution authorizing force against Saddam.
“Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed,” the president said. “These governments share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it.”
“The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities,” Mr. Bush added, “so we will rise to ours.”
However, French Ambassador to the U.N. Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said earlier Monday that a “huge majority” of the Security Council believed that force was not warranted if U.N. inspectors continued to return results.
“During the last day, members of the council repeatedly stated that — and it is a majority in the council — that it would not be legitimate to authorize the use of force now while the inspections set up by resolution are producing results,” de la Sabliere told reporters.
German U.N. Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said that his country, as well as France and Russia, “share the goal — the common goal of the international community to disarming Iraq,” but said “we don’t see at present any circumstances to break off the inspection process, especially at a time when the inspection process yields results.”
Earlier Monday, Saddam admitted that Iraq once possessed weapons of mass destruction, but reiterated that his country no longer has such weapons, contrary to American assertions.
The Iraqi leader said the U.S. would face a people ready to die to defend their government should it launch a military strike in Iraq.
“If it attacks Iraq it will find under every rock and behind every tree or wall Iraqi fighters ready to fight and die as martyrs in defense of Iraq,” he said.