Saddam Hussein remained defiant after the U.N. deadline for an Iraqi pullout from Kuwait passed Wednesday morning, and President Bush met with his national security advisers to consider the next step.

The Iraqi president told his troops in a radio broadcast an hour before the deadline that they were ready to fight and said he would not bargain over Iraq's rights. Baghdad radio later issued air raid instructions.Saddam was reported Wednesday to have gone into hiding in one of his 54 bunkers to avoid possible allied action to elimninate him.

Egypt's leading newspaper, Al Ahram, said the Iraqi leader was directing his defenses from one of these redoubts through his various intelligence agencies.

As skies cleared Wednesday after 36 hours of rain in the Arabian desert, more than 1 million soldiers faced off for battle. Machinery capable of immense destruction stood at the ready, and tense soldiers penned last wills and checked their weapons.

"I just want to get it over with," said Staff Sgt. Brandon Jay, 27, of Pittsburgh, a transportation crew chief.

U.S. military officials announced Wednesday that 10,000 more American troops have joined the 690,000-strong multinational force arrayed against Iraq, which Wednesday stepped up exercises involving the firing of live ammunition.

Asked if the multinational force was ready to attack now that the deadline has passed, Army Lt. Col. Greg Pepin told a briefing in Saudi Arabia: "We're prepared to carry out any order the president directs." White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater told reporters in Washington Wednesday that the Bush administration remains hopeful, but added:

"There is a growing sense that we have to carry out the planning for the use of force, with some resignation."

Asked directly if President Bush had decided to use force, Fitzwater said: "I can't comment on any military decisions at this point."

Bush met with Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in the Oval Office.

The uncertainty of war sent stocks down more than 700 points - or 3.32 percent - on the Tokyo Stock Exchange Wednesday, and prices were slightly lower in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Oil prices shot up $2.13 per barrel higher to $32.20 just before midday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, North Sea Brent Blend was trading at $30.20 per barrel, up $2.01, on the International Petroleum Exchange.

France backs use of force

French lawmakers Wednesday overwhelmingly backed the Socialist government's commitment to use force if war broke out. Britain and Canada also have committed their forces in the past two days to possible combat. Italy's government Wednesday asked Parliament for permission to use force.

"The diplomatic phase is over," French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas told his Cabinet Wednesday.

Two other members of the multinational force, Belgium and Portugal, Wednesday said they would not send combat units to Iraq.

Protests continue around the world

Anti-war protests continued around the world. In Germany, protesters tried to block entrances to several U.S. military bases, and hundreds of thousands of students marched in Berlin, Munich and other cities for the fifth straight day carrying banners saying "No blood for oil!"

One of Berlin's most prominent landmarks, the Victory Column commemorating Prussian triumphs in 19th century wars, suffered minor damage from a blast set off by an electronic trigger, police said. A radical leftist underground group, Revolutionary Cells, claimed responsibility for the pre-dawn blast and said it showed their opposition to war in the gulf.

Iraq's ambassador to the United States, who was recalled to Baghdad on Tuesday, urged more time for peace efforts. "This warmongering has to stop and more time has to be given to a diplomatic solution," the envoy, Mohamed Sadiq al-Mashat, told reporters during a London stopover.

Pope appeals for peace

Pope John Paul II sent appeals for peace to Bush and Saddam, and the Soviet Union told Iraq Wednesday that if it withdraws from Kuwait, Moscow would work toward an overall settlement of Middle East conflicts.

Fitzwater said Bush had read the papal message, sent Tuesday by diplomatic courier, and would respond. "The president, of course, feels the same way the pope does," he said. "We want peace."

Saddam has tried to tie a resolution of the gulf crisis to a resolution of the Palestinian problem, a linkage the United States has rejected.

There was no Iraqi response to the peace efforts. Fitzwater said Bush would respond to the pope and expressed appreciation for his efforts for peace.

Shortly after Tuesday's midnight deadline, the Bush administration gave no indication it intended to attack immediately, preserving the element of surprise and leaving the door ajar for Saddam to back down.

The first stage of a U.S.-led attack was expected to be an aerial bombardment, taking advantage of superior night-fighting technology. The allies' estimated 2,000 military aircraft outnumber Iraq's warplanes 3-to-1.

425,000 U.S. troops now in gulf

U.S. officials said the number of American service members in the region rose 10,000 to 425,000 - the largest U.S. deployment since the Vietnam War.

Baghdad has an estimated 545,000 troops in southern Iraq and Kuwait, which it seized Aug. 2, doubling its share of world oil reserves to 20 percent.

In Baghdad, soldiers stood behind anti-aircraft batteries as thousands of Popular Army militiamen roamed the city with AK-47 rifles.

Morning rush hour traffic was unusually light around Baghdad, more residents were fleeing the city of 3.8 million, and most shops were closed.

The speaker of Iraq's rubber-stamp legislature said Saddam, already de facto military commander, would "from now on direct the battle."

The Iraqi parliament speaker, Sadi Mehdi Saleh, said in an interview Iraq was ready for talks with the United States if it withdraws its forces from the area. But he reiterated Iraq's threat to use chemical weapons if attacked.

Jordan, Israel and Turkey prepared for a possible war. Damascus and Amman called up thousands of reservists, and Turkey said Iraq has closed the only crossing along the Iraqi-Turkish border. Israel closed primary and secondary schools so children could remain near home in the event of an Yraqi attack.

Troops prepare for battle

Troops in the 500,000-strong multinational force arrayed against Iraq soberly prepared themselves mentally, emotionally and physically for the war that may soon come.

"In our minds, the war has started," said Capt. Clint Easery, the father of two adopted daughters. "Today is the day. Training is over with. The mindset is this is the real thing."

For Easery and other members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, the mental and emotional part of preparing for battle was just as important as making sure their weapons were cleaned and their attack helicopters were armed and loaded at their launch stations.

"If I don't make it back, I want to be buried in my military uniform," Esarey, 32, of Indianapolis, Ind., said in a tape recorded message to his wife. "I'm a soldier. It's my life. The uniform is a part of me."


(Additional information)

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24-hour coverage period

All four national television networks plan continuous, 24-hour news coverage if war breaks out in the Middle East.

CBS, NBC, and ABC promised to broadcast live, continuous coverage of the war for as long as they believe necessary, network officials said.

Officials at Cable News Network, the 24-hour news network watched by political leaders and others around the world, also promised 24-hour live coverage.

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