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Iraq Debate Escalates in U.S. Congress - 2002-10-09


Our top story--the debate over what to do about Iraq. Talks still taking place at the United Nations and it’s heating up just down the street from our VOA studios here in the halls of the U.S. Congress. Our Chris Simkins has the latest.

David, behind me on Capitol Hill, members of Congress have launched into a formal debate on a resolution that would give President Bush the authority to take military action against Iraq if necessary. This all as the war of words grows louder for Saddam Hussein to fully comply with new U.N. weapons inspections.

U.N. weapons inspectors are preparing to return to Iraq to begin hunting again for biological and chemical weapons. But in Washington this week U.S. lawmakers began formal debate on a resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq if Saddam Hussein does not comply with new U.N. weapons inspections.

While lawmakers debate President Bush continues to make his case to the public that war with Iraq may be unavoidable, if Baghdad refuses full access to inspectors. In a nationally televised speech Monday, Mr. Bush said the Iraqi leader poses an immediate threat to the United States.

“While there are many dangers in the world the threat from Iraq stands alone because it gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place. Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant.”

Following his speech the White House unveiled satellite photographs reportedly showing expansive new construction at a known Iraqi weapons plant. The president called it proof that Iraq had resumed efforts to further develop weapons of mass destruction. The president also linked Iraq with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist organization. Meanwhile, In Congress Republican lawmakers who overwhelmingly support the President called for a tough stand against Saddam Hussein. Opposition to the resolution came from rival Democrats. Some, such as Congressman Jim McGovern from Massachusetts, questioned the need for an immediate unilateral military strike against Iraq.

“People throughout my district have asked me why are we going to war in Iraq. Veterans and seniors, students and CEO’s, have expressed their deep concern. They hate Saddam and recognize as I do he is a brutal dictator. But they don’t think we should go it alone.”

While U.S. lawmakers move closer to adopting the resolution by the end of this week, the return of international arms inspectors to Iraq may be delayed. U.S. and British diplomats at the United Nations are pushing for a strongly worded Security Council resolutions on weapons inspections, with military consequences if Baghdad fails to cooperate with weapons inspectors. The Bush administration wants arms inspectors to be granted unfettered access to suspected weapons sites, including Saddam Hussein’s presidential palaces scattered around the country. Iraq’s U.N. ambassador Muhammad al-douri indicated that Baghdad might be willing to grant weapons inspectors access to Saddam Hussein‘s presidential palaces.

“I don’t think that we will have a problem on that question, on that issue. Certainly we can accommodate ourselves with the U.N. to have free access to the residential sites.”

Despite the comments made by the Iraqi U.N. ambassador, President Bush has repeatedly said that unless Saddam Hussein fully complies with U. N. weapons inspectors, the United States will lead a coalition of force to disarm him.