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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 March, 2003, 19:29 GMT
Looming war on Iraq condemned
A Baghdad mother tests a gauze mask on her baby
Iraqis are preparing for an attack as best they can
France and Germany have spoken out against war with Iraq at a meeting of the UN Security Council, just hours before the American deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq expires.

Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, said his country "emphatically rejects the impending war" and added that "there is no basis in the UN Charter for a regime change with military means".

His French counterpart Dominique de Villepin echoed the sentiment, saying those who believed terrorism would be eradicated through war on Iraq "run the risk of failing in their objectives".

Their remarks came as US-led combat troops in the Gulf, numbering about 150,000, took up battle positions for an invasion of Iraq.

Huge convoys have moved across the Kuwaiti desert towards Iraq, ahead of President George W Bush's 0100 GMT Thursday deadline.

ATTACK OPTIONS

Officials at US military headquarters in Qatar have told the BBC that no action will be taken before the deadline has passed, unless the Iraqi forces attack first.

With battle looming the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said his thoughts were with the ordinary people of Iraq as they faced the "disaster of war".

He warned the US and UK that "under international law, the responsibility for protecting civilians in conflict falls on the belligerents".

Mr Annan added that the UN would have to play a major role in providing humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people and that he would be appealing to donors for an increase in relief funds.

Shock tactics

Once the US deadline expires there will only be a limited period of darkness available for what could be a simultaneous air and ground attack.

British soldier in Kuwait sandstorm
The region has been hit by a fierce sandstorm

But the BBC's Jonathan Marcus in Qatar says General Tommy Franks, the overall US commander, could determine that the shock of the initial onslaught will be sufficient to allow his forces to advance even in daylight.

The city of Basra and the oilfields of southern Iraq will be among the first objectives.

The Pentagon has denied a report from Kuwaiti security sources that US troops had passed into the demilitarised zone that straddles the Kuwait-Iraq border.

The White House has said it hopes the war with Iraq will be swift, but has warned the American public to "be prepared for loss of life".

A US soldier inspects his truck

"Americans ought to be prepared for the importance of disarming Saddam Hussein to protect the peace," President Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Earlier, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said Washington was lying to US troops about the number of casualties they could expect.

"To say that invading Iraq will be like a picnic is a stupid idea... they are [sending them to] definite death," he warned.

In other developments:

  • Mr Bush sends formal notification of his justification for military action to the US Congress

  • UK Prime Minister Tony Blair holds a 20-minute phone call with Mr Bush

  • Germany expels four Iraqi diplomats for activities considered "incompatible with their diplomatic status"

  • Fifteen Iraqi soldiers surrender to American forces on the Kuwaiti border

  • The US military says its aircraft have dropped nearly two million leaflets on Iraq - their biggest drop to date

  • Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz appears on state television to refute rumours that he has fled the country or been killed.

  • The Turkish Government is asking parliament to allow US planes to use its air space, with a vote expected on Thursday

Hospitals readied

The BBC's Andrew Gilligan in Baghdad says the city is braced for war - electricity supplies are already starting to fail and, as night falls, people are bunkered in their homes.

Residents have stocked up on emergency supplies, businesses are closed, windows boarded up.

Hospitals have been clearing beds to accommodate casualties from what Saddam Hussein has described as "the last battle".

Pregnant women have been crowding surgeries demanding caesarean operations so they can give birth before any bombing or invasion begins.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Philippa Thomas
"The foreign ministers feel they've been sidelined"



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