WASHINGTON — President George W. Bush said Monday the United States will unleash war against Iraq unless Saddam Hussein flees his country within 48 hours. The president warned Americans that terrorists may strike in retaliation and put the nation on higher alert.
“The tyrant will soon be gone,” vowed Bush, commander in chief of 250,000 U.S. troops poised to attack.
Bush set a course for war without U.N. backing after months of futilely trying to persuade Saddam to disarm. In an address televised worldwide, he spoke to several audiences at once, starting with the American public and skeptical allies and including Saddam, Iraq’s military and its citizens.
“The day of your liberation is near,” Bush told Iraqis.
The speech did not silence opposition from home and abroad to Bush’s tough-on-Saddam policies. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said Bush had failed “miserably” at diplomacy, forcing the United States to go to war with Iraq.
From the ornate cross halls of the White House, Bush said for the first time that Saddam could not retain power even by beginning to disarm his nation of weapons of mass destruction — long the stated goal of U.S. policy in Iraq. The only way war can be avoided now is Saddam’s exile, Bush said.
“All the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end,” the president said. “Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict commenced at a time of our choosing.”
The 48-hour clock started at 8 p.m. EST Monday, White House spokesman Adam Levine said.
At home, Bush raised the terror alert status from yellow to “high risk” orange, the second-highest level.
“War has no certainty except the certainty of sacrifice,” Bush said.