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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 18 March, 2003, 13:00 GMT
US war signal divides world
US President George W Bush
Mr Bush urged Iraqi soldiers to surrender
Countries seeking a peaceful outcome to the Iraq crisis have condemned Washington's final ultimatum to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, questioning the legality of starting a war.

US President George W Bush gave Saddam Hussein and his two sons 48 hours to leave the country or face war in a key speech to the American people at 0100 GMT on Tuesday.

France and Germany, staunch opponents of the US strategy on Iraq, were vociferous in their criticism, but a string of other nations also lamented Washington's decision to abandon the diplomatic process.

My answer remains 'No'
Germany's Chancellor Schroeder

There have however been a few expressions of support, and a commitment of troops by Australia.

Mr Bush's ultimatum has been flatly rejected by the Iraqi leadership.

In other developments:

  • A third UK Government minister resigns ahead of a crucial parliament debate

  • UN weapons inspectors leave Iraq

  • Turkey's parliament comes under renewed pressure for a new vote to allow US troops to deploy

  • Poland to send 200 troops to join coalition forces in Gulf

  • Opponents of war call for a UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday

Plight of civilians

In response to Mr Bush's ultimatum, the leaders of France and Germany said there was no justification to resort to force.

"Iraq today does not represent an immediate threat that justifies an immediate war," Mr Chirac said, adding that the US decision "compromises for the future the methods of peaceful resolution of crises linked to the proliferation of arms of mass destruction" - an apparent reference to North Korea.
The tyrant will soon be gone
President Bush

Germany's Chancellor Schroeder said his position was shared by the overwhelming majority of the German people, of the Security Council and the people of the world.

"My question was and is: does the degree of threat stemming from the Iraqi dictator justify a war that will bring certain death to thousands of innocent men, women and children? My answer was and is 'No'."

In comments echoed by Indonesia, Malaysia questioned the legality of going to war without the backing of the Security Council, and also ousting the leader of another country by military means.

Many countries expressed regret about the US decision and pledged to continue efforts to seek a peaceful resolution.

One of those who voiced support for Mr Bush was Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who called the US decision "unavoidable."

Terror threat

In his address from the White House, Mr Bush said the US had the legal right to protect itself.

He warned that Iraq's weapons could be used against Americans by terrorists, including members of Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

"The danger is clear," he said. "Using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfil their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country or any other.

"Instead of drifting along toward tragedy, we will set a course toward safety."

Mr Bush advised all foreign nationals, including journalists and UN weapons inspectors, to leave Iraq immediately.

Mr Bush also used his 13-minute address to send a message to Iraqis, stressing that any military action would be directed against the "lawless men" in power - such as Saddam Hussein and his sons.

Saddam Hussein (left) and his younger son Qusay in 1997
Saddam Hussein's son Qusay (right) commands elite units

His speech followed the collapse of diplomacy at the UN on Monday when the US, UK and Spain withdrew a draft resolution authorising the use of force against Iraq, amid threats of a veto from France.

Referring to France and Russia, Mr Bush criticised permanent, veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council who said they would not allow resolutions compelling Iraq to disarm.

"These governments share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it," Mr Bush said, adding that many other countries supported US policy.

However it was seen as unlikely that the US and its allies could have raised the nine votes needed, even without a veto, to pass the resolution in the Security Council.

The BBC's Nick Bryant reports from Washington
"Rarely has America been so isolated"

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