Iraq Preps For War

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, right, and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk share a laugh before talks at the Prime Minister's chancellory in Warsaw, Poland, Oct 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) AP Photo/Alik Keplicz

In the face of an American buildup that has now reached 210,000, Iraq has begun the first major repositioning of its forces in preparation for war, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin.

A Republican Guards division in northern Iraq has begun moving south, probably to Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, and possibly all the way to Baghdad.

Saddam is still trying to avoid war by making concessions to United Nations weapons inspectors, but he is starting to hedge his bets by pulling his elite troops back toward his center of power. A former U.S. Army general who fought the Republican Guards in the first Gulf War says they are elite in name only.

"I would not describe them as elite by any performance that I saw on the battlefield," retired Gen. Ron Griffiths told CBS.

Griffiths commanded troops that destroyed an entire Republican Guards division in single day, and he predicts the Iraqis will put up even less of a fight this time.

"They are poorly led, they are poorly motivated and I think their loyalty to any authority in Iraq is very tenuous," says Grifftiths.

The U.S. is still hoping it can win the war without firing a shot and is calling senior Iraqis on the phone, warning them they will be treated as war criminals if they follow Saddam's orders. Soon, U.S. officials say, they will start offering amnesty to Iraqi leaders who desert Saddam.

For his part, Saddam is bringing in anti-war activists to serve as human shields and placing more and more military equipment near religious and civilian targets – tactics that complicate American battle plans but do not change the balance of power, which grows more and more lopsided with each passing day. On Wednesday, a fifth carrier battle group came within range of Iraq.

In an exclusive interview, Saddam told CBS News Anchor Dan Rather he has no intention of fleeing Iraq, saying he would die before leaving in exile. "We will die here. We will die in this country and we will maintain our honor -- the honor that is required…in front of our people," he said.

In a related development, President Bush unveiled his vision of a peaceful post-war Mideast. The landscape included a democratic Iraq, an independent Palestinian state and an Israel recognized by its Arab neighbors.

While saying the Iraqi regime still has time to avoid war, Mr. Bush told conservative backers that U.S. troops are ready for battle and spoke and some length about his plans for Iraq once Saddam is gone.

"The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people," Mr. Bush told the American Enterprise Institute. "Yet we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another."

Also Wednesday, the Bush administration dismissed a compromise proposal by Canada to set an end-of-March deadline for Iraq to comply with U.N. disarmament demands and continued pressing for prompt action on a Security Council resolution backing the use of force.

The Canadian proposal "only procrastinates on a decision we all should be prepared to take," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said after Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke by telephone with Foreign Minister Bill Graham.

Boucher recalled other governments tried earlier to set a deadline for Iraq, but "we have heard from inspectors again, again and again" that Iraq had not agreed to fully disarm.

Mr. Bush spoke to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien as well. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer stopped short of declaring outright U.S. opposition, but suggested that Mr. Bush was cool to the compromise.

"The president has offered a resolution that he thinks is the way to go," Fleischer said. "He's confident in the end that his position will be accepted and voted on."

Mr. Bush called Saddam "a master of disguise and delay" and mocked the Iraqi leader for disclosing some weapons that he'd previously denied were in his arsenal.

He also said Saddam could be tried for war crimes if the United States goes to war with Iraq.

Mr. Bush is making what the White House bills as a major address on Iraq Wednesday evening at a conservative think tank in Washington.

There was some evidence that the administration was gaining ground at the U.N. Security Council, including signals that Mexico would side with the U.S. A Russian lawmaker also said he doesn't believe Moscow would use its veto to block the U.S.-backed resolution.

Late Wednesday night, Hans Blix turned in a 16-page report on the progress of inspections in Iraq to Secretary-General Kofi Annan three days before it was due. Annan will send the report to the Security Council.

Blix said earlier that he welcomes Iraq sending letters containing new information about its weapons programs. But he says Baghdad has not given any evidence of a "fundamental decision" to disarm.

He says an important test of Iraq's cooperation will be whether it complies with his order to start destroying Al Samoud missiles that exceed a mandated limit.

A CBS News poll, meanwhile, finds almost two-thirds of Americans believe the Bush administration has already made up its mind to go to war. In the poll of 681 adults conducted Feb. 24-25, most people supported war, extending inspections and involving the United Nations.

In other developments:

  • Britain's House of Commons backed Prime Minister Tony Blair's determination to disarm Saddam, voting 434-124 to support his handling of the crisis.

  • French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said waging war against Iraq now would split the international community and "be perceived as precipitous and illegitimate."

  • U.S. warplanes bombed two military communications sites in southern Iraq Wednesday, marking the fourth American strike on Iraq in two days.

  • The U.S. Defense Department and other agencies may need more than $100 billion to take on Saddam, rebuild Iraq and continue the worldwide fight against terrorism, officials said Wednesday.
    • Joel Roberts

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