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AMERICAN war planners believe that they have little more than 48 hours from the start of a ground war to kill President Saddam Hussein if they are to avoid a protracted conflict and a complicated peace.
Haunted by the failure to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, Washington is putting in place plans to limit the damage if it fails to topple the Iraqi leader swiftly.
They rest in part on persuading the Iraqi people that US forces control the country even before Saddam’s demise. The Pentagon is planning to drop emergency food and medical aid from the first day of airstrikes to try to win the “hearts and minds” of locals so that they will support the ensuing invasion.
The opening days of the war are planned as a massive air assault aimed at collapsing Saddam’s command structure, followed by a “rush for Baghdad” by ground forces. US special forces and CIA teams are already operating on the ground in Iraq. But if US forces cannot find Saddam or present credible evidence that he is dead, they will face stiffer resistance from the Iraqis. “If people think Saddam is still alive they will be frightened to come out and support us, even if he is powerless,” one US official said.
The American failure to get bin Laden “dead or alive”, in Mr Bush’s words, has provided an unsettling background to war planning in Iraq. “Osama bin Laden hangs very heavy over Iraq,” the official said. “We can’t afford another repeat.”
There are formidable difficulties in finding Saddam, who has numerous body doubles and rarely sleeps in the same place two nights running, and America is hoping that its massive show of force will prompt a “palace revolt”.
BREAKING NEWS From PA
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TOP STORIES FROM THE TIMES
Bin Laden plea for suicide attacks
By Roland Watson, Michael Evans, Philip Webster and Stewart Tendler
Osama Bin Laden urged Iraqis last night to launch suicide attacks against American invaders as he tried to inspire them with his own escape from the bombing of Afghanistan
America's 48 hours to kill Saddam
From Roland Watson in Washington
Haunted by the failure to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, Washington is putting in place plans to limit the damage from failing to topple the Iraqi leader swiftly
Queen's horse scores first win since 1949
By Alan Hamilton and Chris McGrath
A devotee of flat racing throughout her reign, the Queen celebrated her first victory over the jumps for 53 years yesterday when First Love obliged in the drizzly, heavy conditions of Folkestone
TIMES SPORTS BOOK
Wednesday at midday: racing update from Rob Wright, The Times Racing Editor. Plus, betting advice and specials in association with Paddy Power
Career may end in shame
Shane Warne left the cricket World Cup pleading his innocence yesterday after discovering that a random drugs test in Australia has shown positive
Cometh The Hours, cometh the man
From Chris Ayres in Beverly Hills and Dalya Alberge
Stephen Daldry, the Dorset-born director of The Hours, was nominated for the Best Director award at the Oscars, only to discover that he was competing against two of cinema’s most revered veterans
America speeds up plans for start of war
By Roland Watson, James Bone and Philip Webster
America has begun accelerating the military and diplomatic pace towards war with Iraq, preparing itself for a conflict starting at the beginning of March
Oil fear takes gloss off BP deal
By Carl Mortished, International Business Editor
Lord Browne of Madingley, chief executive of BP, yesterday took the shine off a landmark Siberian oil deal after signalling a slowdown in growth in the global oil industry
Terror worries upset Wall Street
Worries about war and terrorism upset Wall Street, sending stocks lower after the release of a tape purportedly of Osama bin Laden expressing solidarity with Iraq. Investors also unloaded stocks after Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan said Iraq represents the biggest uncertainty in the economic outlook. Analysts said long-term gains for the market are doubtful until there is resolution in the Middle East.
Powergen increases gas bills by 6%
Energy giant Powergen has announced price rises of up to 6.2% for its gas customers. The company blamed "consistently high wholesale gas costs" for the increases, which take effect from May 1. Energywatch, the gas and electricity watchdog, described the move as "disappointing" and urged Powergen customers to shop around.
Green seeks clearance for Safeway bid
Bhs billionaire Philip Green has sought clearance to make a bid for Safeway, the supermarket group at the centre of a six-way tussle. A spokeswoman for the Office for Fair Trading confirmed a submission was received on Monday from Mr Green. Mr Green, who also owns Arcadia, is thought by observers to be preparing a bid valuing Safeway at around £3.2 billion, or more than 300p-a-share.
BP's profits surge
Energy giant BP has delivered its first quarter of growth for more than a year after a 49% surge in profits fuelled by higher oil and gas prices. BP said headline profits in the three months to December 31 were £1.62 billion compared with £1.09 billion a year earlier. The profits come after production shortages in Venezuela and concerns over the Middle East drove Brent crude prices as high as 27 dollars a barrel in the fourth quarter.
Britannic surges on bid talk
Shares in insurer Britannic have soared by as much as 18% after the embattled group was reported to be in takeover negotiations with larger rival Old Mutual. Speculation surrounding Britannic's future sparked a sharp revival in the insurer's share price and by lunchtime the stock was ahead 14% or 17.5p at 140p. South Africa-based Old Mutual was said to have made an all-share offer for Britannic worth 180p a share, valuing its UK rival at more than £350 million.
BAA gets New Year cheer
Airports operator BAA says its seven UK airports handled 8.8 million passengers last month, 10.7% more than in January 2002, helped by strong traffic over the Christmas and New Year holidays. The airports with the highest concentration of low cost airlines such as easyJet, Go and Ryanair provided the largest gains. Stansted grew 30.5%, carrying 1.15 million passengers in January. Strong growth continued at two of the Scottish airports which also handle low cost carriers. The number of people using Edinburgh grew by 16.1% to 499,000 while Glasgow rose 10.2% to 476,000 passengers in the month.
Unions fear for call centre jobs
Union leaders are seeking assurances over jobs after insurance giant Aviva announced plans to open a new call centre in India, employing 1,000 workers. Amicus said it wanted to find out if there would be any impact on the firm's 30,000 UK employees, including 3,000 based at call centres in Perth and Bishopbriggs in Scotland, Norwich and Sheffield. Aviva, parent firm of Norwich Union, said it aimed to use natural turnover and internal staff transfers in the UK to minimise any compulsory redundancies.
Pizza Express continues to struggle
Struggling restaurant group Pizza Express is offering little sign of a respite from the tough trading conditions which have eaten into half-year profits. The company, which has just added two inches to the size of its pizzas in a bid to win back custom, reported an 18% drop in underlying profits to £17.8 million and said its immediate prospects remained uncertain,Pizza Express blamed fierce competition, particularly from the pub sector, and disappointing trading at its London outlets for the weaker figures which have continued into the second half.
Buy-to-let landlords play it safe
Central London has suffered a sharp fall in lending on buy-to-let properties, but in Scotland and Northern Ireland borrowing has soared. The average value of loans taken out on properties to rent in prime areas of central London fell by 22.5% to £154,000 during the three months to the end of December, according to the Association of Residential Letting Agents. But in Northern Ireland and Scotland the average value of buy-to-let mortgages rose by 13.8% during the same period to reach £66,100.