President Bush last night vowed to attack Iraq if President Saddam Hussein and his sons do not flee the country within 48 hours.
The Iraqi government immediately rejected the ultimatum.
Bush also told Iraqi soldiers not to fight for a “dying regime” - and not to destroy Iraq’s oil wells.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan ordered the evacuation of the weapons inspectors and humanitarian staff from the country. The first wave of UN workers has already landed in Cyprus. Annan also suspended the oil-for-food program.
Bush’s speech came just hours after the US and Britain admitted they had failed to win United Nations Security Council backing for war. They pulled the second U.N. resolution without taking a vote.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan challenged the legitimacy of unilateral military action but refrained from branding it illegal.
In Britain, three ministers have already resigned. The leader of the British House of Commons Robin Cook resigned just after the US and Britain pulled the UN resolution. His resignation speech late last night was met with an unprecedented round of applause and a standing ovation by some Members of Parliament.
Today, Home Office Minister John Denham and Health Minister Lord Hunt of Kings Heath also resigned. But International Development Secretary Clare Short announced she would stay in her cabinet post despite earlier threats to resign.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a peaceful resolution said a U.S. attack would have the “gravest consequences.” Meanwhile, the Russian parliament delayed ratification of a major nuclear disarmament treaty with the US. A parliamentary spokesman said the decision was made after Bush’s declaration and “in the conditions of the massive US pressure on the international community.”
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin denounced the United States, for pulling the resolution from the U.N. He said a wide majority of the 15 members of the Security Council oppose the US. He said the US, Britain and Spain are resorting to force “despite the clearly expressed will of the international community.”
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said today there is no justification for war that will “bring certain death to thousands of innocent men, women and children.”
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao opposed Bush’s ultimatum to Hussein, and held out hope of a diplomatic solution.
Meanwhile the U.S. government raised its terrorist threat level to orange, or “high risk,” last night as President Bush was delivering his speech on Iraq.
Top federal officials asked states to deploy the National Guard or state police to protect sensitive sites across the nation from possible attack.
- President George Bush, recorded March 17, 2003.
- Denis Halliday, ex-Director of UN Humanitarian Program for Iraq.