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 sandstorms today toward Iraq’s
border.

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

“Iraq is not the kind of country that can be dictated to,” said
Saadoon Hammadi, speaker of Iraq’s parliament, as legislators
convened for a special session to discuss the U.S. ultimatum. Some
lawmakers vowed to sacrifice their lives for Saddam. 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 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.

“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. 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.

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

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 Wednesday 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 against a
possible 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.

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.

“We are making one last plea not only on behalf of ourselves but
on behalf of millions of people throughout our country, millions of
people throughout our world,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the Congressional Black
Caucus, said black lawmakers had asked to meet with Bush but were
rebuffed.

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. Many of the hundreds of foreign journalists who have been
covering Iraq’s standoff with the United States also left, with
only several dozen remaining. U.N. weapons inspectors flew out of
Iraq on yesterday, ordered out by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan
after the United States indicated war was near.

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