WASHINGTON (AP) – War against Iraq will be as short as possible but Americans must be prepared for loss of life, the White House warned today as the deadline neared for Saddam Hussein to flee.
Bush met with his war council and the White House sent Congress formal notification of justification for war. In two separate documents, Bush said diplomacy has failed to protect America’s security, linked Saddam’s regime with the al-Qaida network and said captured Iraqi officials could identify terrorists living in the United States.
“The president of the United States has the authority – indeed, given the dangers involved, the duty – to use force against Iraq to protect the security of the American people and to compel compliance with United Nations resolutions,” said a seven-page report sent to Congress with a brief letter from Bush.
While Bush communicated with Congress, spokesman Ari Fleischer delivered a grim message to the American public.
“On the brink of war with Iraq, Americans should be prepared for what we hope will be as precise, short a conflict as possible, but there are many unknowns and it could be a matter of some duration,” Fleischer said. “We do not know.”
“Americans ought to be prepared for loss of life,” he said. “Americans ought to be prepared for the importance of disarming Saddam Hussein to protect the peace.”
The White House had no public plans to mark today’s 8 p.m. EST deadline. Aides said war wouldn’t automatically start the moment the deadline expires but that Bush would rely on the advice of his military commanders.
Referring to Bush’s demand that the Iraqi leader trade power for exile or face a U.S.-led invasion, Fleischer said: “We have not received any indications, unfortunately, from Saddam Hussein that he intends to leave the country.”
“At 8 o’clock tonight the American people will know whether Saddam Hussein has committed his final act of defiance,” he added.
Two Arab countries, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia were reported to have offered haven to Saddam.
In the event of war, Bush would address the nation from the Oval Office, Fleischer said. White House speechwriters have been working on the speech for several days, aides said.
Bush met this morning with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other members of his foreign policy team. He also talked by telephone to Prime Minister Tony Blair, his staunchest foreign ally.
Later, the president met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who made a pitch for more money to help his city prevent a terrorist attack and respond to any that occurs. The president warned Monday that terrorists might retaliate for a U.S. attack on Iraq.
Emerging from the White House, Bloomberg said the lengthy national debate about whether to go to war is over. “The president has listened and he has made his decision, and I know all New Yorkers are behind him and the troops overseas,” he said. “He’s not going to be cowed or dissuaded. He’s going to go out there and do what we all pray is right.”
New York and Washington were attacked by terrorists Sept. 11, 2001. Though Iraq was not implicated, the strikes set Bush on a course to combat terrorism across the globe.
Bush contends that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction that could get in the hands of terrorists.
The White House released a letter and report Bush sent Congress last night that, in compliance with a war resolution approved by lawmakers last year, outlined his rationale for military conflict.
Saying ousting Saddam would help the war on terrorism, the report added: “United States government personnel operating in Iraq may discover information through Iraqi government documents and interviews with detained Iraqi officials that would identify individuals currently in the United States and abroad who are linked to terrorist organizations.”
The presidential letter said the Constitution gives the president authority to “take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.”
White House spokesman Sean McCormack said the language refers to the administration’s belief that there are links between al-Qaida and Iraq, and that Bush was not accusing Iraq of being involved in the attacks.
Bush has said he has no proof that Iraq was linked to the 2001 strikes.
As he has nearly every day since the Sept. 11, 2001, Bush met today with FBI director Robert Mueller and CIA director George Tenet to start his day. He raised the nation’s terrorism alert status Monday to the second-highest level.