A Senate panel conducts hearings this week into a potential U.S. attack on Iraq aimed at ousting Saddam Hussein. The hearing comes in the wake of a series of news reports about possible military action against Iraq.
President Bush, who has labeled Iraq part of an "axis of evil," accuses Saddam Hussein of supporting terrorism and trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. He has talked openly about the possibility of U.S. military action to topple the Iraqi leader.
Congressional Democrats have called on Mr. Bush to brief lawmakers about the strategies the administration may be considering toward Iraq.
Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia has been among the most outspoken. "Reminiscent of the dark ages is an administration that believes in keeping the Congress in the dark, the American people in the dark," he said. "We are hearing a lot of sword-rattling about an attack on Iraq. The administration should level with the Congress. It is an equal branch, it is not a subordinate branch to the executive, never has been and never will be. Let's hear more about this plan to invade Iraq."
Recent news reports have highlighted the debate within the administration about Iraq.
The New York Times Monday reported that U.S. officials are considering the idea of seizing Baghdad and one or two key command centers and weapons depots in the hope of toppling Saddam Hussein's government.
The paper said U.S. military planners hope the strategy would cut off Iraq's leadership and lead to quick collapse of the government, while disrupting the country's ability to produce or use weapons of mass destruction. The Times said no formal plan has been presented to Mr. Bush or his national security team.
Just weeks ago the same newspaper cited a highly classified draft plan to invade Iraq using air, land and sea-based forces attacking from three directions, and requiring some 250,000 soldiers.
Meantime, an article in Sunday's Washington Post offered a very different scenario. The newspaper reported that many senior U.S. military officers believe Saddam Hussein does not post an immediate threat. They argue the United States should continue its policy of containment rather than invade Iraq to force a change of leadership.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, traveling with Mr. Bush in South Carolina Monday, said he would not speculate about any potential military action in Iraq.
But members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans alike believe there should be a debate about Iraq policy. Toward that end, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opens hearings on the issue Wednesday.
Chairman Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, has a series of questions that he wants answered. He commented on ABC's 'This Week' program Sunday. "What is the nature of the threat?," he asked. "When we go in and if we go in and take out Saddam Hussein how long will we have to stay? Will it require tens of thousands of troops to be there for three, four, five years?"
Senator Biden wants to know what options are being considered, and their possible consequences. "What about these quick-hit scenarios you hear about, what about the consequences of that?," he continued. "Will Saddam Hussein use the chemical weapons I believe and we believe he has with the scud missiles he has to attack Israel and widen the war? What are the options available? What will our allies do? Will they come in after the fact and help us keep that country from splitting into three chaotic regions?"
Senator Biden said he does not foresee any imminent military action against Iraq, at least before November.
In a speech in Washington Monday, Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, also underscored the importance of a debate on Iraq policy, including the issue of what authority the President has or needs to pursue military action there.
"I think America has to have a debate," he said. "Lawyers will argue whether the War Powers Act applies, whether the previous U.N. resolutions give us authority, whether the resolution with respect to Afghanistan could be stretched to give us that authority my own view is no. So if lawyers are going to have these kinds of disagreements, we are going to have those kinds of disagreements politically in Washington. I think the American people need to hear the debate, take part in it, and come to some conclusions about it, to support the ultimate action the President will take."
Under United Nations resolutions, international weapons inspectors must certify Iraq has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction before the 1990 U.N. sanctions imposed on the country are lifted. Baghdad says it has rid itself of such weapons, but has not allowed inspectors into the country since 1998.