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Resolution on Iraq Advances In Both Houses of Congress

By Janet Hook
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

A measure to give President Bush broad authority to launch an attack on Iraq began to advance Thursday in Congress, as the resolution was approved by a House committee and the Senate opened debate on the issue.

Final votes approving the resolution are expected next week.

But in the Democratic-controlled Senate, Bush’s allies and his adversaries began to spar over how the United States and the international community should respond to what the White House has argued is the threat posed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his suspected weapons of mass destruction.

“Today, we begin the process of ensuring that this violent and cruel man can longer menace us, his neighbors and his own people,” Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said as the debate formally began. “Let there be no mistake, the elimination of the Iraqi threat is essential if we are to win the war on terrorism.”

Some influential Senate Democrats immediately questioned whether Bush has made the case that Iraq poses an imminent threat. They prepared to propose alternative resolutions and to use the debate to focus public attention on the potential risks and costs of Bush’s initiative against Iraq.

“As sure as the sun rises in the east, we are embarking on a course of action with regard to Iraq that, in its haste, is both blind and improvident,” said Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.). “We are rushing into war without fully discussing why, without thoroughly considering the consequences, or without making any attempt to explore what steps we might take to avert conflict.”

But even dissenting Democrats say they expect Bush to prevail in both the House and Senate. “The train left the station,” Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) said.

That much had become clear Wednesday, when the White House and a bipartisan group of congressional leaders endorsed a compromise resolution authorizing Bush to launch a unilateral, pre-emptive military strike against Iraq if he concludes that diplomatic efforts to deal with Baghdad have proved fruitless.

The compromise would grant Bush the key powers he sought. In return, he agreed to certify to Congress that military action came only after he had exhausted diplomatic options and that an attack on Iraq would not set back ongoing efforts to combat terrorism.

The sense of inevitability about the outcome took some drama out of the Senate debate, which opened in halting fashion Thursday. The debate was delayed and interrupted periodically by consideration of other legislation.

The issue probably will not be joined in earnest until next week, because many lawmakers will be out of town Friday for the funeral of former Rep. Patsy Mink(D-Hawaii).

Neither the compromise resolution nor any alternatives are expected to come to a vote before Tuesday or Wednesday.

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) did not join other leaders in endorsing the compromise resolution and has said he wants to impose further restrictions on Bush’s warmaking powers. Nonetheless, Daschle tried to open Senate debate on a conciliatory note.