Bush pressures U.N. to take on Iraq

WASHINGTON (AP) – On the eve of a showdown over Iraq, President Bush said yesterday the United Nations must help him confront Saddam Hussein or “fade into history as an ineffective, irrelevant, debating society.”

As Bush issued his call for unity, the administration said Americans should be prepared for “a fairly long-term commitment” in Iraq if the United States goes to war.

Secretary of State Colin Powell told the House Budget Committee he had no estimate of the cost of war with Iraq. But he did say he thought Iraq should be able to adjust quickly afterward – in contrast to the slow pace of recovery in Afghanistan.

“I would hope that it would be a short conflict and that it would be directed at the leadership, not the society,” he said. Iraq has an effective bureaucracy, rich oil resources and a developed middle class, the secretary of state said.

The flurry of events laid the groundwork for today, when U.N. weapons inspectors are to report to the Security Council on whether Iraq is complying with orders to disarm. Bush is expected to quickly follow up with a request for a U.N. resolution authorizing force.

However, the top U.N. nuclear weapons inspector said yesterday that inspections should continue.

“We’re still in midcourse, but we are moving forward, and I see no reason for us to bring the inspection process to a halt,” Mohamed ElBaradei said in an interview with The Associated Press as he drafted his report on a flight from Vienna, Austria, to New York.

U.N. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hans Blix, who heads the hunt for Baghdad’s biological and chemical weapons, would address a French proposal to triple the number of inspectors.

During a visit to Mayport Naval Station in Florida, Bush told cheering sailors, “I’m optimistic that free nations will show backbone and courage in the face of true threats to peace and freedom.”

“I believe when it’s all said and done, free nations will not allow the United Nations to fade into history as an ineffective, irrelevant, debating society,” he said.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers questioned whether Bush’s focus on Iraq could hurt the broader war against terrorists, particularly Osama bin Laden’s network suspected in the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The clear and present danger that we face in our country is from terrorism and from al-Qaida,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California as lawmakers heard testimony from Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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