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Iraq: Hussein Divides Country Into Military Districts

Baghdad; Washington, 16 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq has put itself on a war footing as U.S. President George W. Bush tells the American people the country's military is ready to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein if need be. In Baghdad yesterday, the Revolutionary Command Council issued a decree dividing Iraq into four military districts under Hussein to "repulse and destroy any foreign aggression," the official INA news agency reported.

Hussein's son, Qusay, was placed in charge of the regime's heartland of Baghdad and the president's hometown Tikrit.

Hussein's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, was placed in charge of the key southern sector facing U.S. and British troops massed in Kuwait. Al-Majid is known as "Chemical Ali" for his role in the 1988 campaign against rebellious Kurds in northern Iraq in which thousands of Kurds died, many in chemical weapons attacks.

Hussein's deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, was placed in command of the strategic northern region. The central Euphrates district, which includes the Shi'ite Muslim holy sites, was placed under Mazban Khader Hadi, a member of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council.

Saddam himself retained sole authority to order the use of surface-to-surface missiles and aviation resources, the decree said.

"Each command of a region is in charge of defense affairs within its geographic boundaries and to lead and use all the financial, human, party organization, the people and military division to confront any foreign aggression aimed at Iraq's sovereignty, independence, and security as well as maintaining internal security," the decree said.

Meanwhile, in his weekly radio address, Bush said he has little hope Iraq will disarm peacefully: "There is little reason to hope that Saddam Hussein will disarm. If force is required to disarm him, the American people can know that our armed forces have been given every tool and every resource to achieve victory."

Later today, Bush will meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on the Azores islands. The three have been trying for weeks to build a nine-vote majority in the 15-nation Security Council for a resolution authorizing force against Iraq. But only one other council member, Bulgaria, has publicly backed them.

U.S. officials said the summit on the Portuguese islands is not a war council, but aimed at increasing pressure on Hussein. But British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said war now looked "much more probable."

The French foreign ministry issued a statement saying nothing justified force now. France, along with Germany and Russia, also issued a call for foreign ministers to convene a meeting of the Security Council on 18 March to discuss the Iraqi crisis.

Also yesterday, Baghdad invited the top weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Muhammad el-Baradei to visit as soon as possible to discuss outstanding disarmament issues. Blix said he would study the invitation.

In cities across the world, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in what many saw as a final global protest against any U.S.-led war on Iraq.