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US Congressmen Embark on Visit to Iraq - 2002-09-25

Two U.S. lawmakers are going to Iraq in what they call an effort to assess the humanitarian situation there and try head off military conflict with the United States. It is the latest visit to Baghdad by members of Congress who are considering a resolution expressing support for President Bush in a possible military action against Iraq.

Congressmen David Bonior of Michigan, and Jim McDermott of Washington state, are among the most outspoken democrats opposing what they call the Bush administration's rush to military confrontation with Iraq.

They say they will be visiting a number of sites in Iraq, including hospitals, food distribution centers, and water filtration plants, and will meet with the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq.

Congressman Bonior pointed out they want to see the impact of the economic embargo on Iraq but also be communicating to the Iraqi government the seriousness of the situation.

"We will make our case as strong as we can to not only the Iraqi leadership but the leadership here in this country that this war is not necessary," he said. "It will destabilize, we believe, many parts of the world and result in much loss of life and to the extent we can raise our concerns, we're anxious to do so."

For Congressman McDermott, the United States need to exhaust every possible measure to avoid war. "The day the United States starts saying we don't like this leader and we are going to take him out no matter what the human cost is, we have crossed a major line in international behavior," he said. "I am very worried about that, and for that reason we want to go and look and have an opportunity to see people there."

The lawmakers currently have no meetings scheduled with President Saddam Hussein, but expect to see Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. They say they will press Iraq to agree to unfettered U.N. inspections.

The two democrats, who leave Thursday for Baghdad, say they have informed the State Department of their trip and will be briefed by U.S. officials.

This will be the second visit to Baghdad by U.S. lawmakers since President Bush outlined his position on Iraq to the United Nations, and demanded strong U.N. action.

Another House democrat, Nick Rahall of West Virginia, also visited Iraq on what he called a humanitarian mission, and said he told Iraqi officials they must allow unfettered access to U.N. weapons inspectors or suffer another serious military defeat.