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 Friday, 3 January, 2003, 00:28 GMT
Bush: Iraq's 'day of reckoning' looms
USS Constellation aircraft carrier in the Gulf
The US military build-up is continuing
US President George W Bush has warned Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that his "day of reckoning" is coming.

Mr Bush said he was "hopeful we won't have to go to war" but repeated that he doubted Iraq's willingness to disarm.

For 11 long years the world has dealt with him, and now he has got to understand his day of reckoning is coming and therefore he must disarm voluntarily

George W Bush
Earlier, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz Iraq accused the US of "imperialist designs" and said it was preparing to invade to seize control of Iraq's oil resources.

The United States is sending thousands more troops to the region as part of its build-up for possible military action against Iraq.

On Thursday, US warplanes dropped about 480,000 leaflets on cities in southern Iraq asking Iraqis to tune in to American propaganda radio broadcasts.

The Arabic broadcasts - part of the US military's psychological operations - urge Iraqi soldiers to turn against Saddam.

Declaration 'false'

President Bush, speaking at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, said there was little evidence that the Iraqi leader would disarm peacefully.

"You know, he is a man who likes to play games and charades," he said.

"The question is, will Saddam Hussein disarm? The first indication isn't very positive. After all, he put out a declaration that the world realised was false."

Mr Bush added: "For 11 long years the world has dealt with him, and now he has got to understand his day of reckoning is coming and therefore he must disarm voluntarily.

George W Bush
President Bush insists Iraq is hiding banned weapons
"Hopefully he realises we're serious."

Mr Aziz said the US was planning to invade regardless of what the inspectors did or did not find.

"They didn't say 'let us wait for a while for the result of the inspection and then let's decide what to do'," Mr Aziz told European activists, who are in Baghdad to show their opposition to war on Iraq.

"When they continue their preparations for the war of aggression, what does that mean? It doesn't mean that they are genuinely afraid of an imaginary Iraqi threat. It means that they have an imperialist design," he said in English.

"That design is to invade Iraq, to occupy Iraq and use the national resources of Iraq for the purposes of... the American capitalist regime," he said.

Military build-up

The US army is sending 800 engineering and intelligence specialists to the Gulf over the next weeks, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the US announced it was sending the 17,000-strong US Third Infantry - desert warfare specialists - as reinforcements for about 60,000 troops already in the Gulf region.

US officials told the Associated Press that Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was expected to approve more deployments and mobilise tens of thousands more National Guard and Reserve forces.

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz
Tariq Aziz says America wants Iraqi oil
In Iraq, UN weapons inspectors visited six more sites in central and north-west Iraq on Thursday.

The chief inspector, Hans Blix, is to make a progress report to the United Nations on 27 January.

Iraq complains that UN inspectors are "intrusive" but says it has not obstructed them. Baghdad claims they can find no banned weapons of mass destruction because they do not exist.

Inspectors have now visited 230 sites since returning to Iraq in late November, according to General Hossam Mohammad Amin, the chief Iraqi liaison officer.

He said they had gone beyond their mandate by checking commercial activity, not just suspected weapons production.

But still nothing untoward had been discovered, General Amin said.

A group of American Christians visiting Iraq said on Thursday there was still a chance of a peaceful solution.

Bob Edgar, Secretary General of the National Council of Churches (US), told a news conference in Baghdad they were concerned about food shortages facing the Iraqi people.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"Inspectors are now planning to widen the scope of their searches"
  General Hussam Mohammad Amin
"All inspections prove that the Iraqi declarations are credible"
  The BBC's Roger Hardy
"For the Americans, the main thing is that Saddam should go"

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02 Jan 03 | Middle East
01 Jan 03 | Middle East
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