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President Clinton's Iraq policy faces skepticism from both ends of the political spectrum.


Opposition to bombing Iraq is gaining ground as Congress struggles over how far it should go in supporting military action. Catholics and Protestants, former military and intelligence officers, longtime anti-war groups and Arab Americans say air attacks would do little more than kill Iraqis.

Opponents are scattered across the political spectrum. Some insist the bombing wouldn't go far enough, including conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill who believe the ultimate goal should be to remove Saddam Hussein from power.Others fear a U.S. attack would go too far, killing thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, destroying Mideast peace efforts, and bypassing Congress in making war on another nation - all to punish the Iraqi president.

Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., one of the capital's most respected foreign affairs voices, said he backs President Clinton's Iraqi policy but doesn't think force would diminish the threat of Iraq's weapons or its ability to threaten its neighbors.

``The administration, I think, has a very heavy responsibility now to articulate with very great precision what our purposes are in Iraq,' Hamilton told Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who trooped to Capitol Hill nearly every day last week to talk about Iraq.

To bolster support, Clinton plans to speak today at the Pentagon to make the case for why the United States may launch airstrikes on suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons-making sites in Iraq, which Saddam has ruled off limits to U.N. inspectors. His foreign policy team, including Albright, Defense Secretary William Cohen and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, will hold town hall meetings this week in Ohio and Tennessee, too.

The one thing bombing opponents and proponents have in common with Clinton is abhorrence of Saddam, who had agreed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War to allow U.N. inspections to ensure that he didn't rebuild his nonconventional war machine.

Those feelings initially translated into strong congressional support for Clinton. But support wavered last week, with Republicans and Democrats raising questions about what an airstrike could accomplish and at what cost. A supportive resolution was put off until Congress returns from a break next week.

A few members of Congress strongly oppose Clinton's Iraq policy.

Conservative Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, last week introduced emergency legislation to stop Clinton from using force in the Gulf.

``There is absolutely no moral or constitutional reason to go to war with Iraq at this time,' said Paul, a former Air Force flight surgeon.

A liberal, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., also balked, saying, ``How many people are we going to kill this time just because we don't want to set a precedent for having a country dictate ... who can do an inspection?'

And Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., who is trying to build support for a 2000 presidential campaign, said Monday in Iowa that Clinton has lost the ``moral authority' to order military action. Citing the president's strong denials of an alleged affair with a White House intern, Smith said: ``If he can't tell me the truth about this, is he telling the truth about Iraq?'

Opposition is also growing beyond the Capitol.

All seven active U.S. Roman Catholic cardinals cautioned in a letter to Clinton that bombings could be impossible to justify. About one-fifth of the National Catholic Conference of Bishops have signed on to a campaign to end U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq.

On Monday, the executive board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ approved a letter to Clinton urging the president to seek a diplomatic solution. The board includes more than 40 representatives of 32 mainstream Protestant and Orthodox Christian denominations.

Two former CIA directors who served under Clinton joined a different sort of opposition chorus, advocating more than airstrikes.

``The problem with Iraq will not be solved by an air campaign,' former CIA Director John Deutch said. His predecessor, James Woolsey, criticized Clinton's ``flaccid responses' and advocated a combination of bombs, support for Iraqi opposition groups and imposition of a nationwide no-fly zone over Iraq.


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