WASHINGTON -- House Majority Leader Dick Armey warned on Thursday that an unprovoked attack against Iraq would violate international law and undermine world support for President Bush's goal of ousting Saddam Hussein.
The remarks by Armey, a Texas Republican who is retiring this year, are the most prominent sign of congressional unease about the Bush administration moving toward a war against Iraq, and were especially striking coming from a leading conservative and a staunch Bush ally.
Armey's comments came on a day when Hussein took to the airwaves in Baghdad
for a fiery diatribe against a possible invasion, calling the United States and
its allies "the forces of evil."
"If we try to act against Saddam Hussein, as obnoxious as he is, without proper provocation, we will not have the support of other nation states who might do so," Armey told reporters in Des Moines during a campaign swing for a House candidate.
"I don't believe that America will justifiably make an unprovoked attack on another nation," Armey said. "It would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation."
In Baghdad, Hussein warned in his televised address that any troops attacking his country would be "digging their own graves.
"The forces of evil will carry their coffins on their backs, to die in disgraceful failure, taking their schemes back with them or digging their own graves," Hussein said in a 22-minute speech on the anniversary of the end of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker termed the speech a "bluster from an internationally isolated dictator, demonstrative yet again that his regime shows no intention to live up to its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions."
"Saddam Hussein's regime remains a serious threat to the Iraqi people, to the people of the region, to the neighbors of Iraq and to international peace and stability," he said.
The Bush administration has threatened to use military force to oust Hussein, who has barred United Nations weapons inspectors from returning to the country. Iraq remains under tight UN sanctions until inspectors certify Hussein no longer has chemical, nuclear or biological weapons or the missiles to deliver them.
There was no indication from Hussein that he was ready to reach an agreement on allowing arms inspectors back into the country, despite his calls Thursday for an "equitable dialogue."
Hussein said the real issue was not Iraqi behavior but the UN Security Council's refusal to respond to his questions about the inspections.
Iraq submitted 19 questions in March when talks began on the possible return of inspectors. The talks have since collapsed, and the Security Council, where the United States holds veto power, has issued no response.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Thursday that the Iraqi government hadn't given "an inch" toward meeting UN demands. "I don't see any change in attitude," he said.
Meanwhile, as the debate about Iraq has grown, leaders of several Iraqi opposition groups are in Washington to meet Friday with senior U.S. officials at the Pentagon and the State Department, offering their ideas for removing Hussein.
A spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella group that has fought for recognition by Washington, said Bush had an easy task if he chooses to overthrow Hussein.
"It is clear that the United States, if it takes military action, can easily overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. We do not believe . . . it will suffer great military difficulty," Sharif Ali Bin al-Hussein said at a news conference.
Earlier Thursday, about 15,000 members of Hussein's Jerusalem Army marched through Baghdad in a 90-minute display of support for the president. Dressed in khaki uniforms and armed with Kalashnikov rifles, the marchers carried photographs of Hussein and placards with anti-U.S. slogans with slogans such as "Long live Saddam!" and "Down with U.S.A.!"
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