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Iraq

Iraqi chemical threat cited

President Bush says Saddam Hussein has authorized field commanders to use chemical weapons in the event of war.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 7, 2003


WASHINGTON -- President Bush declared Thursday that "the game is over" and put the United Nations on notice that little time is left to disarm Iraq and avert war.

Bush accused Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein of authorizing field commanders to use chemical weapons in the event of a U.S.-led invasion.

"Saddam Hussein will be stopped," a steely Bush said from the White House after a meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Bush repeated his call for the United Nations to authorize military strikes against Iraq or stand aside as the United States leads a coalition to disarm and topple the regime. He made no mention of a deadline.

"Saddam Hussein can now be expected to begin another round of empty concessions, transparently false denials," said Bush. "No doubt, he will play a last-minute game of deception. The game is over."

The Army's 101st Airborne Division, one of the first combat units involved when U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan, was ordered Thursday to deploy for possible operations in the region. The division, with 23,000 soldiers, joins a total force of about 200,000 in place or on the way to positions within striking distance of Iraq.

Building on the detailed case Powell made Wednesday before the Security Council, Bush cited intelligence information that he said indicated Iraq is prepared to use chemical agents.

"We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons -- the very weapons the dictator tells the world he does not have," Bush said.

It is the first time the administration has made such a charge.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has issued a blunt warning to the Iraqi leader, warning him that the use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons against U.S. forces would trigger a devastating reprisal.

"Let there be no doubt. The message to anyone in that chain of command, at the highest level or at the lowest level, is, don't even think about it," Rumsfeld said last week. "If force is used and (Hussein) uses weapons of mass destruction, anybody connected with that process will wish they hadn't been."

U.S. officials have held out the possibility that they would retaliate with devastating force -- possibly with battlefield nuclear bombs -- in the event the Iraqi leader resorted to such weapons.

Responding to the potential use of chemical or biological weapons, Pentagon officials are weighing the possibility of battlefield cremations of slain GIs. The scenario of particular concern is that the bodies of fallen troops infected with deadly microorganisms such as smallpox would be dangerous breeding grounds for an outbreak of contagion.

"This would be a first," said Lt. Col. Cynthia Colin, a Pentagon spokeswoman. "At this point we believe it's a prudent step for the department to re-look at the policy and make sure we have considered a variety of scenarios that could play out, including chemical and biological agents, and make sure we give commanders a variety of options. Cremation is one of the options being considered."

Current military policy is to leave no fallen soldier behind. The prospect of cremating the remains on the battlefield would be a significant shift in policy and military culture.

Another option could be temporary burial abroad, which is allowed by military regulations. In World War I, for example, 47,000 Americans were temporarily buried overseas and then returned home, while in World War II, more than 250,000 American troops were temporarily buried overseas, according to the Army.

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, plans were reportedly in place for mass burials and cremation of any troops killed by chemical or biological agents. Those plans never had to be implemented.

The current review, which began last month, is being conducted by officials of the Army's Mortuary Affairs program, charged with the recovery of all service member remains, and by health and safety officials from all four branches of the military, Colin said.

In his remarks, Bush said the 15-nation Security Council "will show whether its words have any meaning" by deciding how to enforce its Nov. 8 resolution calling Iraq to disarm or face "serious consequences." Bush said he would support a second resolution if it led to swift action against Iraq.

"Having made its demands, the Security Council must not back down, when those demands are defied and mocked by a dictator," said Bush, speaking in a tone tinged with anger.

"Resolutions mean little without resolve," he said. "And the United States, along with a growing coalition of nations, is resolved to take whatever action is necessary to defend ourselves and disarm the Iraqi regime."

After meetings this weekend in Baghdad, chief U.N. inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei will make a report on Feb. 14 to the Security Council on Iraq's level of cooperation.

Briefing senators on Capitol Hill, Powell said the outcome of the inspectors' two-day visit would be key to winning support for the use of force from reluctant powers, including France, Russia and China.

Powell said that his U.N. presentation Wednesday had begun to persuade allies and that there is now greater support "than some might think" behind a second resolution condoning the use of force, which was underscored during his bilateral meeting with all 14 other members of the Security Council.

"Later in the day when I spoke to each and every one of them and they heard what I said, there was some shift in attitude -- that suggested more and more nations are realizing that this cannot continue indefinitely," Powell said.

French President Jacques Chirac said Thursday, however, that France remains opposed to imminent military action. "We refuse to think that war is inevitable," he said.

Russia and China, two other key veto-wielding Security Council members, also continue to call for U.N. inspections to be given more time.

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