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Bush Proceeding On Assumption Saddam Will Not Leave - 2003-03-18


President Bush is involved in last minute planning for military action against Iraq after Saddam Hussein rejected the U-S ultimatum to leave the country or face war.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says President Bush still hopes President Saddam and his sons Uday and Qusay will leave Iraq. But Mr. Fleischer said on Tuesday that Mr. Bush is now proceeding on the assumption that the Iraqi leader refuse to step down.

Mr. Fleischer called President Saddam's rejection of Mr. Bush's ultimatum the Iraqi leader's "final mistake." Mr. Bush said Monday that if President Saddam failed to leave Baghdad, the United States will take military action "at a time of its own choosing."

Mr.i Fleischer has not ruled out a U-S attack on Iraq before the deadline (0100 U-T-C Thursday) for President Sadam to leave expires.

U-S Secretary of State Colin Powell says 45 nations have joined a U-S-led "coalition of the willing" aimed at removing President Saddam from power.

Meanwhile, President Saddam made a rare televised appearance in military uniform and was quoted as telling his cabinet that he will emerge the victor from any war. But U-S officials say intelligence intercepts indicate that Iraq's military is demoralized and some military units may be ready to surrender without a fight.

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