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US Congress Divided Over Timing of War Against Iraq - 2003-03-07

The U.S. Congress is divided over the timing of a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq, and the importance of U.N. Security Council backing for a resolution authorizing use of force to disarm that country.

As a deeply-divided Security Council prepares to debate a draft resolution supporting military action if Iraq fails to disarm, Senate Republicans are already playing down possible defeat of the measure.

Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska said, "We don't need partners in this one. "We don't need it. We have right on our side and might on our side and we should use that might for the best interests of the world of the future."

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was especially critical of the world body. "If the United Nations wishes to become a spineless debating society, that is its right," said Senator Hatch. "If it or anyone else believes that it can pervert international law to constrain the legitimate use of American force for the protection of our national security, then it will begin the 21st century on its self-imposed decline to irrelevance."

But Republicans themselves are divided on how important it is for the United States to have broad international backing for any military action against Iraq. Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said such support would be especially crucial in rebuilding a post-war Iraq. "All our friends are going to be needed as we think about the future of Iraq, and work with people of that country for the building of democratic institutions," he said.

Democrats agree, but many are calling for more time for the inspections process to run its course before resorting to war.

Referring to chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix's comments to the Security Council Friday noting some Iraqi compliance with inspections, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut said the process is making progress. "We should not conclude that this has failed," he said. "It is working, not at the pace we would like, not concluding as rapidly as we would hope to see in Iraq, but it is working."

Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts agreed, saying now is not the time for war. "It is time for the president and this White House to pause before pushing aside the rest of the world and ordering an invasion of Iraq," he said. "Brash action will only place our troops in greater harm's way. As we unleash a firestorm of military might over Iraq, we could easily unleash a firestorm of hatred for America, creating a far more dangerous world for Americans here at home and in many other countries."

But Republican Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will not fully disarm on his own, and will continue to pose a threat to the world until he is forceably disarmed. "Time is not on our side," said Senator Warner. "The failure of the United States and the coalition of willing nations, principally Great Britain, not to act is not in our interest. The price of inaction is far greater than the price of action."

In a speech in New York, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized the Bush administration for not addressing the costs of possible war against Iraq both in terms of dollars and lives.