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House arms Bush for strike

Washington, Oct. 10 (Reuters): The US House of Representatives today voted to grant President George W. Bush the power he wants to launch a military attack on Iraq, a step the Senate was expected to follow either later today or tomorrow.

The Republican-led House endorsed a war powers resolution in an easy victory, giving Bush the support he sought to face down Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who the White House says has weapons of mass destruction that threaten the US and its allies.

Just as Congress prepared to approve the resolution, Iraq tried to avert an attack by inviting the Bush administration to see for itself that Baghdad was not producing weapons of mass destruction.

“If the Americans commit a new foolish action against Iraq, we will teach them an unforgettable lesson,” Abdul Tawab Mullah Hwaish, an Iraqi deputy Prime Minister, told a news conference in Baghdad.

“The American administration are invited to inspect these sites,” he said. “As I am responsible for the Iraqi weapons programmes, I confirm here that we have no weapons of mass destruction and we have no intention to produce them.”

On the ground, US and British warplanes attacked Iraqi air defences in two locations today in a southern “no-fly” zone, US officials said. Such attacks have increased in recent months. Iraq said US jets had raided the Basra civilian airport — an airfield Washington says also serves a military purpose.

In neighbouring Kuwait, three US Marines were injured in a training accident when ordnance left after the 1991 Gulf war exploded during a military exercise, US sources said. It was the third incident in three days involving the Marines.

Oil prices retreated to their lowest level in three weeks today, as the prospect of a US war against Iraq appeared to recede and oil supplies looked healthy, dealers said.

Bush, eager to topple Saddam Hussein, has warned of an attack should Iraq not cooperate fully with UN inspectors looking for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons capability.

Iraq has agreed, under intense US pressure, to allow arms inspectors to return after a four-year absence, but the 15-nation UN Security Council is still locked in negotiations on how intrusive it wants UN inspections to be.

Secretary of state Colin Powell told CNN’s Larry King that he hoped Washington would win support in the Security Council for a new resolution on disarming Iraq “within a matter of days or perhaps a week or two”.

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