The U.S. Congress has handed President Bush a major victory, as both the House of Representatives and the Senate overwhelmingly approved a resolution giving him the authority to use military action - if necessary -to disarm Iraq.
The Republican-led House was the first to pass the resolution, which gives the President broad authority to use force against Iraq, with or without United Nations support. The measure also encourages the President to exhaust all diplomatic means first and requires that he report to Congress every 60 days if he does take action.
Mr. Bush immediately welcomed the vote. "The gathering threat of Iraq must be confronted, fully and finally," he said.
But more than half the House Democrats - concerned the measure would give the President too much power - voted against it, even though their leader, Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri, was a co-sponsor.
Mr. Gephardt reflected on the vote. "To our enemies, who watch this democratic debate, and wonder if America speaks with one voice, I say 'have no doubt'. We are united as a people defending ourselves," he said.
Hours later the Democrat-led Senate passed the resolution.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, was a co-sponsor. "Our friends and allies must know that we do not target Saddam's regime simply because he is a bad man, although his continuation of his tyranny is a rebuke to every decent value of humanity," said Senator McCain. "We contemplate military action to end his rule because allowing him to remain in power with the resources at his disposal would intolerably and inevitably risk American interests in a region of the world where threats to those interests affect the whole world."
But some Democrats expressed concern that a possible conflict in Iraq would detract from efforts to fight terrorism. Others said Mr. Bush had not made a case for use of force against Iraq, while still others argued that unilateral action would set a dangerous precedent.
Senator Carl Levin the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee cited an example. "If China decided that Taiwan, which it has labeled a 'renegade province', is a threat to its security, then, with this precedence, it can attack Taiwan," he said.
Efforts by opponents of the resolution to delay the vote or narrow the scope of the measure proved unsuccessful.