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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prepare for War, White House Says

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration on Wednesday told Americans to prepare for hostilities with Iraq that will cost lives and last for an unknown time, and said it had given Congress the required notification for war.

Hundreds of security forces and armed members of President Saddam Hussein's Baath party deployed throughout Baghdad, taking up positions in the city and on its southern approaches.

Israel ordered its citizens to start carrying their gas masks to work and to school.

"On the brink of war with Iraq, Americans should be prepared for what we hope will be as precise and short a conflict as possible, but there are many unknowns. It could be a matter of some duration, we do not know," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.

"Americans have to be prepared for loss of life. Americans have to be prepared for the importance of disarming Saddam Hussein to protect the peace," he said.

President George W. Bush on Monday gave Hussein until 8 p.m. Wednesday, Washington time, to leave Iraq or face attack. (The deadline was 4 a.m. Thursday, Baghdad and Moscow time.)

"[At] 8 o'clock tonight the American people will know that Saddam Hussein has committed his final act of defiance," Fleischer said.

The White House had no plans to mark the deadline's passing with a statement. Bush would make an Oval Office speech in the event of war, but Fleischer declined to say whether this would be before or after hostilities begin.

In the meantime, he said, Bush was working with military planners "and allowing the time that he has given to pass."

Fleischer's comments were among the most direct by the White House on the potential costs of an Iraq war, which would be the first under a national security strategy announced last year that asserts a right to launch pre-emptive strikes on countries deemed a threat.

Democrats have criticized the Bush administration for failing to discuss anticipated costs in lives or money.

The administration is expected to ask Congress for between $70 billion and $90 billion within days of the start of a war. Money would be intended to cover war costs, stepped up domestic security measures and foreign aid.

Bush notified Congress on Tuesday night, under terms of a resolution passed in 2002 authorizing force against Iraq, that diplomacy had failed. The notice was required before or within 48 hours after the start of war. It was released Wednesday.

Washington ended its efforts this week to win UN backing for a resolution authorizing force to eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which it claims Hussein is hiding.

Hussein, Iraq's president for 23 years, denies having such weapons. He rejected the 48-hour ultimatum on Tuesday.

Much of Baghdad, normally a vibrant city of 5 million people, began to resemble a ghost city as darkness fell Wednesday, with almost every store shut. Residents continued to stream out of the city, heading to the countryside to escape the expected bombing.

Curiously, there was no sign Wednesday of Iraq's army troops or armor in or outside Baghdad, where Hussein is widely expected to make his final stand against any invaders.

Iraqi officials, however, remained defiant in the face of about 300,000 U.S. and British troops backed by 1,000 warplanes and a fleet of warships. Iraq has about 350,000 troops.

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz appeared Wednesday at a Baghdad news conference, putting to rest rumors that he had defected and declaring that he would rally behind the Iraqi leader.

Ruling out a last-minute political solution, Aziz told journalists: "We are ready to fight, prepared to face the aggressors and are certain of victory."

Iraqi parliament members on Wednesday declared their loyalty to Hussein and renewed their confidence in his leadership.

Bahrain, a small Gulf state allied with the United States, offered Hussein a haven Wednesday, the first such offer to be publicly extended to Iraqi leader as Arabs scramble to avert war. There was no immediate comment available in Baghdad on the offer.

Baath loyalists and security forces, meanwhile, stood behind hundreds of sandbagged fighting positions built over the past two weeks. Some were inside foxholes. Most were armed with Kalashnikovs, but some had rocket propelled grenades and heavy machine-guns. On Baghdad's southern fringes, several anti-aircraft guns could be seen.

Even traffic policemen wore helmets and carried assault rifles Wednesday.

Israel said it issued the warning about gas masks based on Bush's ultimatum.

Hundreds of Israelis fled the seaside city of Tel Aviv on Wednesday to avoid a feared repeat performance of the first Gulf War, when Hussein hurled 39 Scud missiles at Israel, causing heavy damage but few casualties.

About 2,400 families from the Tel Aviv area registered in the southern town of Kiryat Gat on Wednesday. Eight leading hotels in the Jerusalem area reported a surge of more than 1,500 calls from Tel Aviv residents looking for rooms.

As the hours counted toward the deadline, Bush kept out of sight of reporters and met with his National Security Council.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney arrived at the White House in black limousines and sport-utility vehicles for council meetings that have increased in frequency to almost daily as war looms.

Bush called British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his staunchest ally on Iraq, to congratulate him on overcoming a party revolt to win parliamentary backing to wage war on Iraq.

Bush also met with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to discuss New York's security needs.

New York, site of the Sept 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center, is considered a significant target for potential reprisal terror attacks in the event of war.

(Reuters, AP)