President Bush issued a direct warning to Iraq's military leaders and soldiers today, bluntly telling them they will be punished as war criminals if they follow orders to use chemical or biological weapons against U.S. troops or civilians in Iraq.
Bush's warning , his most direct and personal to Iraq's military leadership on the use of weapons of mass destruction, was part of a stepped-up U.S. campaign to increase pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the military leaders who support him as the United States builds up its forces in the Persian Gulf region.
As part of an expanding information war, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced that the Pentagon has begun broadcasting its regular news briefings into Iraq. Pentagon officials said the briefings, beginning with today's, would be translated into Arabic, then broadcast.
"To all Iraqis who are listening today for the first time, I say this is democracy in action," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Foreign Press Center in Washington. "It is freedom in action."
U.S. aircraft have dropped almost 1 million leaflets over southern Iraq in recent days directing Iraqis to tune in to radio broadcasts by U.S. forces about U.N. weapons inspections and Hussein's leadership.
The effectiveness of the U.S. efforts to foment an organized opposition to Hussein is unclear.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons in London on Tuesday that a "massive amount" of new intelligence suggested that the military buildup had "rattled" the Iraqi government. In Washington today, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters there were "some indications of unrest in some of the Iraqi leadership."
Myers said Iraqi authorities had taken "extra measures" to enforce loyalty in the military "by populating some of the major units with people" considered devoted to Hussein. But he added that Iraq had made no substantial changes in the positioning of its forces and that Iraqi military commanders showed no sign of resisting orders.
In remarks to about 400 people in a cold, unheated warehouse here, Bush said there will be "serious consequences for any Iraqi general or soldier who were to use weapons of mass destruction on our troops or on innocent lives within Iraq.
"Should any Iraqi officer or soldier receive an order from Saddam Hussein, or his sons, or any of the killers who occupy the high levels of their government, my advice is, don't follow that order," he continued. "Because if you choose to do so, when Iraq is liberated, you will be treated, tried and persecuted as a war criminal."
Although the administration has periodically warned Iraqi generals and appealed to them to switch sides, the campaign began in earnest last weekend, when Bush's three top national security officials sent the same message on Sunday morning television shows. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice supported suggestions that Hussein should consider asylum outside Iraq. Rumsfeld said that war might be avoided if Hussein and his senior leadership left the country.
Senior administration officials said that the simultaneous messages were no accident, and that U.S. officials will continue to issue warnings.
"The president today, I believe, indicated to the Iraqi regime and to the Iraqi people, and particularly to Iraqi military, that . . . any orders they receive with regard to the use of weapons of mass destruction, they should disobey," Rumsfeld said at his meeting with foreign journalists.
Bush flew to St. Louis to extol the benefits to small businesses in the latest round of proposed tax cuts. But before he got to his $674 billion economic plan, he turned his attention to Iraq and U.S. demands that Hussein abandon his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.
The president's comments came as the United States and some of its European allies continued to differ over the timing of a decision on whether to go to war before Monday's crucial report to the U.N. Security Council on eight weeks of searches for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Bush dismissed calls by France and Germany to give U.N. weapons inspectors more time, saying Hussein is not interested in giving up his weapons. "He asked for more time so he can give the so-called inspectors more runaround," Bush said. "He's interested in playing hide-and-seek in a huge country. He's not interested in disarming."
Powell also questioned the effectiveness of the inspections. "The question isn't how much longer do you need for inspections to work. Inspections will not work," he told regional newspaper reporters. "What Iraq has to do is come clean, stop it, stop the nonsense, stop the cheat and retreat."
In an interview broadcast tonight on PBS' "News Hour," Powell said opponents of military action, such as France and Germany, are focusing on the wrong issue when they say the inspectors need more time.
"We have more information and knowledge, much of it highly classified, that others do not have access to," he said.
About 400 people at JS Logistics, a trucking and warehouse business here, applauded Bush's remarks on Iraq. But they showed even more enthusiasm when he turned to the subject of tax cuts and their benefits to small businesses. . "The best way to encourage job growth is to let companies like JS keep more of their own money so they can invest in their business and make it easier for somebody to find work," Bush said.
He also called on Congress to make the repeal of the estate tax permanent, and defended the most controversial aspect of his economic plan -- ending income tax on dividends paid to investors.
Replying to Democratic charges that the plan would mostly benefit the wealthy, Bush said more than 40 percent of the people who receive dividends earn less than $50,000 a year, including many senior citizens. However, he did not say how much of the total amount companies pay in dividends goes to this group of investors, and how much goes to wealthier investors.
"Dividends are part of the savings of America," Bush said. "Double taxation of dividends deprives people of needed money. It has bad effects."
Staff writers Karen DeYoung, Bradley Graham and Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this report.