- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

President Bush yesterday formally declared to Congress his authority under the War Powers Act to use America's armed forces against Iraq and told top lawmakers in a classified Oval Office briefing that the United States is "making progress" in its military operation to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime.

"We will stay on task until we've achieved our objective, which is to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, and free the Iraqi people so they can live in a society that is hopeful and democratic and at peace in its neighborhood," the president told congressional leaders after a morning meeting in the White House devoted exclusively to Iraq.

"We're making progress," he said.

In his notification to Congress, Mr. Bush said that he had "reluctantly concluded" that "only the use of armed force" could disarm Saddam, who on Wednesday rejected the president's ultimatum of two days earlier to leave Iraq within 48 hours.

"These military operations have been carefully planned to accomplish our goals with the minimum loss of life among coalition military forces and to innocent civilians. It is not possible to know at this time either the duration of active combat operations or the scope or duration of the deployment of U.S. Armed Forces necessary to accomplish our goals fully," Mr. Bush said in a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate.

The 1973 War Power Act, designed to curb executive branch powers, allows presidents to dispatch troops to conflicts for up to 60 days, but requires congressional approval beyond that.

Ever since its passage, presidents have considered the law an infringement on their constitutional authority but still have filed brief reports to Congress.

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said that the mission is going well so far, but said no one knows for sure just how long it will take to remove Saddam from power.

"I think it's important for the American people to remember this still can be a long, lengthy, dangerous engagement … because this is war," Mr. Fleischer told reporters. "The president believes that this can be a long conflict."

The first U.S. combat casualties are "a reminder that no matter what people perceive, this is real, this is war, this is dangerous, there are many risks ahead," the spokesman said.

In his brief comments to reporters yesterday after his meeting with lawmakers, Mr. Bush expressed his gratitude to members of the U.S. military and the resolutions of support passed by Congress.

"All of us involved here in Washington are extremely proud of the skill and bravery of our young Americans who are willing to sacrifice for something greater than themselves," he said. "Not only do we support those brave souls who are sacrificing on our behalf, but we want to thank their parents and their families for their dedication, as well."

To lawmakers including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who has criticized the president for what he said was a "dismal" failure of diplomacy Mr. Bush said: "I also really want to thank … members of both political parties for the strong resolutions … which said loud and clear, our country supports the men and women in uniform."

Emerging from the White House meeting, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican and the primary drafter of the House resolution, said, "It's very heartening to see that things are going well in Iraq. It's just been fantastic."

Mr. Fleischer said he did not know the fate of Saddam, who was targeted by Tomahawk cruise missiles on Wednesday.

There were "a number of rumors swirling," the White House spokesman said, and added: "Let me put it to you this way: I don't know how Saddam Hussein is feeling today."

Mr. Fleischer said the coalition of allied nations is now up to 46. The United States dropped Angola from the public list of "coalition of the willing" nations supporting war on Iraq, but added Costa Rica, Palau, and Panama for a net gain of two declared members.

Aides said the president "briefly" watched televised images of the "shock and awe" bombing in Baghdad yesterday, before boarding the presidential Marine One helicopter with first lady Laura Bush and one of their daughters, Barbara, for the short flight to Camp David in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains.

Mr. Bush is scheduled to meet at Camp David today with his national security team, including Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

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