WASHINGTON - More than a fourth of the House of Representatives, including at least two dozen Democrats who voted to authorize force against Iraq, are petitioning President Bush to let the weapons inspection process conclude before launching an attack.
Members of Congress and their aides said the congressional petitions, circulated and signed by Democrats, do not represent a fundamental weakening in support for the president's get-tough approach to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. But lawmakers are worried that the Bush administration is moving too quickly to prepare for war without winning the support from allies abroad and the public at home.
''We believe the US should make every attempt to achieve Iraq's disarmament through diplomatic means and with the full support of our allies,'' 123 Democratic members of Congress said in a letter authored by Representatives Ron Kind of Wisconsin, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Of the signers, 22 voted for the Iraq resolution, including Representative Martin T. Meehan, Democrat of Lowell. That letter was sent to Bush yesterday.
In a separate letter still being circulated among House members who supported the authorization of force in Iraq, Representatives Stephen F. Lynch of Boston and Edward J. Markey of Malden, both of whom voted for the Iraq resolution last October, asked Bush to ''exhaust all diplomatic means, including conducting complete and unrestricted inspections to peacefully disarm Iraq.''
Explaining why he and Markey drafted a separate letter, Lynch said: ''I just thought it would be more powerful if you had only members who voted with the president. It would be more difficult to dismiss it.''
In the Senate, some lawmakers also are getting skittish as the number of US troops pouring into the region increases and the release of the interim report from weapons inspectors in Iraq draws near. Chief arms inspector Hans Blix is scheduled to issue his initial findings on Monday and some lawmakers are concerned that the Bush administration will use it as grounds for an attack that they hope can be avoided.
''The American people don't want this war, our global allies don't want this war, so why is President Bush stampeding down the warpath, and not working toward a real solution to disarm Saddam?'' Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, said in a speech yesterday at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
In Washington, Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, told reporters: ''The administration has put this country on a bull-headed rush to war, seemingly without regard for the implications such unilateral action will have on America's relationship with other nations.''
A bipartisan group of senators who met privately Thursday with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressed concerns that the administration had not voiced, or even assembled, the evidence of weapons offenses that would justify a war, said a staffer briefed on the session.
Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and his party's senior member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged Bush in a letter to share more information with inspectors about weapons sites in Iraq.
A Democratic aide described ''a general uneasiness'' in the Senate but ''not a sea change'' in attitudes about a possible war.
There was no immediate reaction from the White House to the letters circulated in the House.
Dan Goure, an analyst for the Lexington Institute, dismissed the lawmakers' pleas as ''postelection regrets.''
Antiwar protesters, meanwhile, are planning another public relations blitz before the State of the Union address on Tuesday. A plane carrying a banner stating ''Let the Inspections Work'' is set to fly near San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium during the Super Bowl tomorrow. A TV ad, modeled on Lyndon Johnson's ''daisy'' spot depicting a nuclear explosion, is to air in Washington the same day.
A group called TrueMajority has purchased a $200,000 ad buy for Tuesday, when it will air another spot featuring actress Susan Sarandon and Edward Peck, a former US ambassador. In the TV ad, Sarandon wonders aloud about Americans returning ''in body bags,'' while an image of white crosses in the cemetery in Normandy, France, appears behind her. As Sarandon warns of Iraqi women and children dying, an image appears of a distraught woman carrying a child.
What, Sarandon asks, did Iraq do to deserve this? Nothing, Peck responds, saying that Iraq has not been linked to Al Qaeda or the Sept. 11 attacks. The spot closes with an image of a fireball and the words, ''Win Without War.''
Nathan Naylor, a spokesman for Fenton Communications, which represents TrueMajority, said the group was having trouble getting networks to carry the ad, but had lined up spots on CNN in New York and Washington. TrueMajority was founded by Ben Cohen, cofounder of Ben & Jerry's.
Antiwar groups, which unsuccessfully fought to defeat the Iraq resolutions last year, have turned their attention to forcing an extended inspection period. While no lawmaker publicly renounced his or her vote for the Iraq resolution, some have become more aggressive recently in their support of thorough inspections.
''To do this the right way, we need to build international support, an international coalition,'' said Kind, who voted for the Iraq resolution. ''I still believe that at the end of the day, force may be a necessary remedy. But I don't think we've arrived at that day yet.''
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