Everybody leads with the clock winding down and Saddam’s rebuff of the White House’s demand that he leave. Appearing on national television—seemingly from an underground bunker, notes the New York Times, Saddam said, “Iraq does not choose its leaders by decree from Washington, London, or,” he added for good measure, “Tel Aviv.” The White House called the rejection Saddam’s “final mistake.” Aside from that, really, we’re in a waiting pattern and there’s not much news.
The White House suggested that since Saddam announced he won’t flee, strikes might start before the 48 hours are up. The NYT picked up on that yesterday.
USA Today says that soldiers from the military’s Delta Force are about to be dropped into Baghdad, where they will be tasked with locating and (unofficially) killing Saddam, his sons, and his top lackeys.
It appears that Saddam may be taking some pre-emptive action of his own. Citing the U.S. commander of naval forces in the gulf, the NYT says the Iraqi army has dispatched “a large number of fishing vessels,” perhaps to drop mines. Citing one general, the Times also says there is “some evidence” that Iraqi engineers have wired a big dam on the Euphrates river. The paper also mentions—briefly—that “many” American tanks and troop transports were heading to battle without their full complement of spare equipment.
Everybody says up high that Secretary of State Colin Powell named 30 countries that he said were supportive of an invasion. Powell said another 15 countries are lending their support but would prefer not to be outed. Among the “coalition” countries are about a dozen Eastern European states and stalwart supporter Turkey. Only two of the partners are sending troops: Britain and Australia. Spain is sending some support units but declined to send any combat soldiers. The Washington Post, which off-leads the announcement and has the best coverage, notes that the administration had previously contended that the number of supporting countries was in the “high digits.” The Post adds that Colombia seemed “unaware” it’s on the list.
As the papers all note, France actually offered to join the invasion if Saddam uses chemical or biological weapons. The White House reacted diplomatically. “I think they’d have to fight us to get into it,” said one “senior administration official” in the NYT.
The Post says that despite U.S. pleas, Turkey continued to assert that it’s justified to head into Iraqi Kurdistan, a move that could set off very bad things. USAT gives a different take, saying Kurdish and Turkish officials have agreed to let the U.S. take control of the region. An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal says we shouldn’t assume that the Kurds are the good guys: “In the weeks I’ve been in [Iraqi Kurdistan],” writes Melik Kaylan, “I’ve learned the last thing local leaders want, or intend to employ, is democracy and the rule of law.”
Everybody notes that British Prime Minister Tony Blair survived a parliamentary vote on the war yesterday, with about a quarter of the members of his Labor Party voting against him.
The papers have what may be for some their final dispatches from Baghdad. Everybody tries to figure out whether the capital will be the next Stalingrad or Grenada. And all stick to their previous positions. The NYT’s John Burns sees a cakewalk: “For many Iraqis the first American strike could not come too soon.” One taxi driver told Burns, “People are waiting for America.” The WP concurs, “Privately, even some officials concede that few may fight.” The WSJ adds that there already appear to be some defections among Saddam’s “elite” Republican Guard. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times continues to suggest that Iraqis don’t want GIs visiting: “Interviews suggest that Bush made little headway with the people here.”
The NYT says that only a handful of U.S. journalists are now left in Baghdad. The Post has now told two of its three reporters there to leave.
Polls show a pre-war rally: According to the WSJ, 61 percent of Americans now support going in. The Post says it’s 71 percent.
None of the papers have editorials directly about the war. But the NYT’s Thomas Friedman does take it on. The Bush team, he says, needs an “attitude lobotomy.” That’s the only way this thing is going to work in the long-term. He adds, “We must bear any burden and pay any price to make Iraq into the sort of state that fair-minded people across the world will see and say: ‘You did good. You lived up to America’s promise.’ “
What were they thinking … The NYT runs the following correction: “An article in Arts & Ideas on Saturday about works of art inspired by science misstated the title of a Thomas Pynchon novel. It is The Crying of Lot 49, not The Crying of Lot 69.”