Courtesy of CNN.com
Senior Pentagon officials have told President Bush that the military would be ready once the order to attack is given. In Kuwait, hundreds of military vehicles have been spotted heading north toward the Iraqi frontier.
Witnesses described a 16-mile (26-kilometer) stretch of road filled with tanks, armored personnel carriers, fuel trucks and other vehicles, and said the traffic had doubled by Tuesday afternoon.
Pentagon officials told CNN's Barbara Starr that sandstorms blowing through the region could be an important factor in deciding when the campaign will begin.
Winds of up to 20 mph dramatically challenged visibility Wednesday and could continue into Thursday, CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers said.
Pentagon officials said that the sandstorms could be a problem for U.S. helicopters, which are expected to be a key element of the invasion. They said the Bush administration wants to launch the air campaign and ground assault almost simultaneously.
Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, told CNN's Ryan Chilcote that the sandstorms could complicate the U.S.-led mission but that Iraqi forces would face the same challenges.
"Even activities as simple as driving from one point to another can be challenging," Petraeus said. "You have to use GPS [Global Positioning Satellite] devices to do that; you have to slow down your speeds. It has some safety challenges, but at the end of the day we will accomplish what is necessary."
Bush has given Saddam and his sons Uday and Qusay until 8 p.m. EST Wednesday -- 4 a.m. Thursday in Baghdad. Officials said that Bush's order to launch the attack could come at any time after that deadline. (Full story)
But two senior officials observed that in Bush's televised ultimatum the president said the United States would attack "at a time of its choosing." (Text of Bush speech, slide show)
The officials noted that the United States did not launch attacks in Afghanistan until more than two weeks after Bush used those same words in an ultimatum to the Taliban.
Bush is meeting Wednesday with the National Security Council and with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to a senior official.
At those sessions, Bush will hear the latest on military preparations and an assessment of weather and other conditions that could factor into a decision on when to go to war.
A senior official said that "it obviously is no surprise to anyone that a strike is coming" and that even beyond an evaluation of weather and other field conditions it could be in the U.S. interest "to leave them staring at the sky for a little bit."
An escalation of military activity has been underway in the "no fly zones" in northern and southern Iraq in recent weeks, and one White House official said Bush had been briefed on "preparatory actions" inside Iraq -- presumably special operations to scout attack routes and potential targets.