Washington, 18 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has given Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his sons two days to leave Iraq or face U.S.-led military action. In an internationally televised address, Bush said that if Hussein fails to leave Iraq by Wednesday night, it will lead to an armed conflict that will begin at a time of the United States' choosing.
Bush called on all foreigners, including journalists and United Nations weapons inspectors, to leave Iraq immediately.
"All the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end. Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing. For their own safety, all foreign nationals, including journalists and inspectors, should leave Iraq immediately. Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast, and I have a message for them: If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country, and not against you."
Before Bush spoke, Iraq had already rejected the expected U.S. demands that Hussein leave power.
In his speech, Bush called on Iraqi soldiers not to fight against the United States and its allies, not to use weapons of mass destruction, and not to destroy Iraq's oil wells.
Bush justified an attack on Iraq by citing previous United Nations resolutions calling for Iraq's disarmament. He said Iraq continues to possess weapons of mass destruction and has a deep "hatred" of America and its friends.
Bush said the U.S. Congress had given him authority for a war against Iraq in a measure passed last year.
Bush's speech came after the collapse on 17 March of diplomatic efforts at the United Nations on a new Security Council resolution on Iraq.
Russia and France have warned against a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, saying it could have serious consequences for the world.
In London, the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected today to ask the British parliament to support British participation in a U.S.-led military attack on Iraq.
Blair, a strong supporter of President Bush, is expected to face a rebellion from some members of his Labour party in the House of Commons who believe that the case for a war against Iraq has not yet been made.
Blair's former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, the parliament's leader, resigned yesterday in protest of the government's handling of the Iraq crisis.
Cook, one of the Labour party's most prominent figures, said he could not support a war that did not have the backing of the United Nations and the majority of the British people.