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Momentum toward war builds as Bush warns, `The game is over'

WASHINGTON—A grim President Bush prepared the nation for war Thursday, issuing a blunt review of Iraqi misdeeds, charging that Saddam Hussein has authorized the use of chemical weapons against U.S. troops and saying, "The game is over."

His statement from the White House came a few hours after the Army's 101st Airborne Division, a premier unit that often spearheads invasions, received orders to deploy overseas.

The Army's only air-assault division and one with a particularly rich history, the 101st Airborne and its helicopter gunships will deploy to the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility, which includes the Persian Gulf, military officials said.

Administration officials say war against Iraq could start at the beginning of March.

"All the world can rise to this moment," Bush said with Secretary of State Colin Powell standing by his side. "The community of free nations can show that it is strong and confident and determined to keep the peace.

"Saddam Hussein has the motive and the means and the recklessness and the hatred to threaten the American people. Saddam Hussein will be stopped."

In a related development, the State Department issued a new worldwide caution Thursday to Americans overseas, based on what officials said was new intelligence about threats to U.S. citizens.

Intelligence officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said intercepted communications and other intelligence indicated that terrorists affiliated with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida organization and other groups were preparing to attack Americans, Jews and other targets if the United States led an invasion of Iraq.

"Terrorist use of nonconventional weapons, including chemical or biological agents, must be considered a growing threat," the warning said.

During a visit to Capitol Hill, Powell said the crisis over Iraq would reach a climax "one way or another" within weeks. "I think we are reaching an end game," Powell told the largely supportive Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He said fresh backing still might come from the U.N. Security Council, depending on the outcome of a trip to Baghdad this weekend by chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei.

Those inspectors pointed to the talks in Iraq—and to their report Feb. 14 to the Security Council—as key mileposts along the road to the disarmament of Iraq or to war.

"Our mission in Baghdad this weekend is crucial," ElBaradei said during a stopover in London. "We hope we will secure full, 100 percent cooperation on the part of Iraq."

Said Powell: "I think it'll start to come to a head when Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei return from Baghdad and we see whether or not there is any chance of serious progress."

One possible sign of movement emerged Thursday when Iraq said that one of its weapons experts had submitted to a private interview with U.N. inspectors. The report was confirmed by the United Nations, which has demanded unmonitored access to all Iraqi weapons experts.

In Bush's statement, he urged the United Nations to stand truly united against Iraq. He said its credibility and its future were at stake.

"The United Nations can renew its purpose and be a source of stability and security in the world," the president said. "The Security Council can affirm that it is able and prepared to meet future challenges and other dangers."

He said sources have told the United States that Saddam "recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons, the very weapons the dictator tells the world he does not have."

Bush also predicted that Saddam would begin what he called "another round of empty concessions, transparently false denials.

"No doubt he will play a last-minute game of deception. The game is over."

The precise location for the deployment of the 101st Airborne and the number of soldiers weren't disclosed, but a military statement said the unit "will provide Central Command substantial operational flexibility and combat power, as well as the ability to conduct long-range helicopter attacks and air assault operations."

Maj. Carl Purvis, a military spokesman, said the 101st would deploy out of Jacksonville, Fla., via plane and ship.

"The president of the United State has made no decision about any future military operations," Purvis said. "These deployments are prudent steps to increase military capabilities and enhance flexibility."

Based at Fort Campbell, Ky., the 101st is fast, mobile and deadly.

Its 20,000 soldiers ride to battle in the Blackhawk helicopter, with Apache gunships providing cover and support for the light infantrymen. The division can leap more than 100 miles behind enemy lines in one jump, as it did during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Organized in 1942, the unit's paratroopers jumped into Normandy the night before D-Day. At Bastogne, during the Battle of the Bulge, it was the 101st's acting commander, Maj. Gen. Anthony MacAuliffe, who responded with a one-word message—"NUTS!"—to a German demand for a surrender.

The division fought for seven years in Vietnam. Its troops have deployed to Rwanda and Somalia in recent years.

The total U.S. contingent in or near the Persian Gulf is expected to exceed 200,000 troops. The British are expected to contribute at least 40,000.

In other developments:

_NATO postponed until next week a final decision on a U.S.-backed plan to deploy anti-missile systems and other measures to protect Turkey in case of war. The move came as France, Germany and Belgium continued to resist heavy pressure to support the American plan.

_Turkey's parliament, under considerable pressure from the United States, voted to allow the United States to begin renovating military bases and ports for possible use by American combat troops. Turkish officials said another vote would be taken Feb. 18 on whether to allow U.S. troops to use that nation as a staging point for war, a crucial element of the Pentagon's plan.

At the United Nations, diplomats praised Powell's presentation Wednesday of the U.S. case against Saddam and signaled that the Security Council was beginning to move toward serious consideration of another resolution condemning Iraq and lending support to an American-led invasion.

Among countries viewed as the most reluctant to back military action are Germany and three veto-bearing members of the council: France, Russia and China.

To succeed, a resolution must win nine favorable votes from the 15 council members and mustn't be vetoed by any of the five permanent members: Russia, France, China, Britain and the United States.

"I will take a risk. I do not think anybody is actually going to veto this time around out of the permanent members," Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's U.N. ambassador, predicted on PBS.

On Capitol Hill, Powell said he sensed some progress at the United Nations, where he spoke one-on-one with diplomats from 13 of the 14 other countries on the council.

"There was some shift in attitude, a shift in attitude that suggested, I think, more and more nations are realizing that this cannot continue like this indefinitely," he said. "And so I think there might be perhaps more support for a second resolution than some might think."

Powell agreed with lawmakers that a U.N. resolution authorizing military force would be preferable, but not necessary, and he dismissed suggestions by the French and Germans that the United Nations send more inspectors into Iraq.

"Three times as many inspectors, as was suggested by my French colleague and seconded by my German colleague yesterday, might be useful if there was a change in attitude," he said. "But if there's no change in attitude, we don't need to hire more detectives. "

Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican who has urged the administration to go slowly before launching a war, told Powell he worries that Iraq is taking attention away from other trouble spots. Democrats accused the administration of ignoring a greater threat in North Korea.

"There are other urgent threats to our security around the world. North Korea.

I would list the Middle East. I'm concerned about what's not happening in Israel with a peace plan. We have allowed that to drift," Hagel told Powell.

" We have great challenges still in Afghanistan. The India-Pakistan issue is, I think, of great urgency. You did not make these problems, but you and the president and your team must deal with them."

Powell assured that the administration is not distracted by Iraq.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Diego Ibarguen, Daniel Rubin and Warren P. Strobel contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ