Bush threatens Iraq

WASHINGTON–President Bush warned Iraqi troops Wednesday that they would be tried as war criminals if they used weapons of mass destruction against U.S. troops, which Pentagon officials said were in place and ready for combat.

But as Bush delivered the threat, the leaders of France and Germany pledged to work together to block any U.S. war plans.

Bush and other administration officials have intensified war talk in recent days while simultaneously releasing more details about accelerating troop deployments to the Persian Gulf.

In a speech in St. Louis, Bush directed his comments to Iraqi officers and soldiers, promising “serious consequences” for anyone who carries out an order to use chemical or biological weapons.

“My advice is, don’t follow that order, because if you choose to do so, when Iraq is liberated, you will be treated, tried and persecuted as a war criminal,” Bush said, inadvertently substituting the word “persecuted” for “prosecuted.”

At a briefing for reporters in Washington, Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. troops are ready for action.

“We’re ready now,” Myers said. “The Iraqi regime should have no doubt.”

The tough talk from Washington and London contrasted with the message from other U.S. allies. In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder pledged solidarity against imminent military action in Iraq, presenting a unified front that is bound to cause trouble for the Bush administration.

“War is always evidence of failure. Everything must be done to avoid war,” Chirac said. Schroeder, who won re-election on an anti-war platform last year, has been even more adamant in his opposition.

France has veto power on the U.N. Security Council as one of five permanent members there, and currently holds the rotating council presidency. Germany takes over as council president next month, although it does not have veto power because it is not a permanent member.

“We both want a peaceful solution to the crisis in Iraq, and we will work toward that in close cooperation,” Schroeder said.

A Russian diplomat at the U.N., speaking on condition of anonymity, also expressed opposition to any new resolution authorizing war with Iraq.

The Russian official said U.N. weapons inspections should be allowed to run their course to completion.

Knight Ridder correspondent Diego Ibarguen contributed to this report.

© 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.