The deadline for Saddam Hussein to meet President Bush's ultimatum is only hours away, and sources say war could begin as early as tonight, but there are signs that Iraqis may not offer very stiff resistance.
There is growing hope among U.S. officials that an invading land force could push rapidly up the main highway toward Baghdad without meeting heavy resistance. Officials are offering clear instructions by leaflets and radio broadcasts to the Iraqi military on how to avoid attack by American forces.
Turn tank turrets to the rear.
Point the main gun at the ground.
Above all, don't shoot.
Overnight, U.S. forces made the biggest drop of leaflets to date in a months-long psychological warfare campaign. According to the U.S. Central Command, nearly 2 million leaflets were released over Iraq, warning the Iraqi people not to fight and to stay out of public view.
Intelligence sources told ABCNEWS the United States is getting clear signals from some senior leaders of Iraq's elite Republican Guard that they are looking for a way to cooperate.
A unit of 17 regular Iraqi army soldiers surrendered to U.S. forces today on the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border, a Central Command spokesman in Doha, Qatar, said. The Iraqis were turned over to Kuwaiti custody.
This follows indirect contacts by leaders of some regular Iraqi army units letting the U.S. military know they do not want to fight.
The regular army units, stocked with conscripted soldiers, did not provide much resistance during the 1991 Gulf War, and were not expected to do so in any upcoming conflict.
But Saddam is expected to rely on the Republican Guard -- long commanded by Saddam's youngest son and heir apparent Qusai -- to defend key areas like the capital, Baghdad, and Saddam's hometown of Tikrit.
Cautioning the Civilians
As for Iraqi civilians, there is a constant pitch being made that the fight is not with them.
In delivering his ultimatum to Saddam in a speech Monday night, Bush told Iraqi troops: "If war comes, do not fight for a dying regime that is not worth your own life."
He continued by telling soldiers to listen carefully to his warning that they should not destroy oil wells or use weapons of mass destruction.
Bush then addressed Iraq's civilians, saying: "If we must begin a military campaign it will be directed to lawless men who direct your country and not at you."
He pledged the United States would provide food, medicine and other assistance as Iraq recovers from war.
Echoing that message, Col. William Grimsley of the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry said: "As our fight isn't against innocent people, we ask them to continue trying to live their lives and stay home."
Nevertheless, Iraqi preparations for war continue.
A commercial satellite photograph shows smoke from an oil-filled trench on the outskirts of the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. In war, U.S. officials fear Iraq would set hundreds of such fires in an effort to make targets harder to see for U.S. pilots.
How Much of a Coalition?
In camps at the border of Iraq, the soldiers who have become the "coalition of the willing" in the U.S.-led effort have been waiting for the signal to go.
U.S. and British troops moved out of temporary camps and pushed toward the border with Iraq. More than 170,000 are now in Kuwait.
"What we have been training for the past month, six weeks, how long you've been here, will now happen," said Lt. Col. Duncan Francis, an artillery officer with the British military.
The United States today named 30 countries that support its efforts in Iraq, dubbing them a "coalition of the willing." They are mostly small nations like Eritrea, El Salvador, Afghanistan and Albania.
The administration doesn't like to mention there are just two countries besides the United States actually sending troops to actually fight — Britain and Australia. They are a coalition of three.
ABCNEWS' John McWethy contributed to this report.