| Demonstrators gather in New York’s Central Park to protest against the proposed US war on Iraq. (Reuters)
Washington, Oct. 7 (Reuters): With Congress poised to authorise a possible war against Iraq, President George W. Bush headed for American heartland today to galvanise public support for a US first strike.
In his speech in Cincinnati, Ohio, Bush will outline his case against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Aides said the speech is intended to be educational and explain the urgency of Bush’s case, but he is not expected to reveal new intelligence data on Iraqi arms programmes.
“It will be a notable speech,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.
He would not confirm a report in The Washington Post that Bush would include a message to Iraqi officials that they could be charged as war criminals.
But Fleischer said, “The message to Iraqi commanders is, think before you act. You do not have to obey the orders that Saddam Hussein gives you. And that the United States takes very seriously the criminal nature of any of these acts... particularly acts that would involve the use of chemical or biological weapons.”
Although Bush will be directing his message to the American public, a secondary audience will be international, as he seeks to demonstrate US determination and overcome doubts within the UN Security Council over authorising force against Iraq.
Secretary of state Colin Powell kept up a pattern of regular contact with other veto-holding members of the Security Council over the weekend, staying in frequent touch with Britain, including today, and speaking to counterparts from France and Russia, state department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Bush has called for a new UN Security Council resolution demanding that Saddam dismantle programs to acquire weapons of mass destruction and said it would be necessary to use force if Saddam failed to comply.
Boucher said the US was optimistic the council would send a strong message that Iraq had to allow unrestricted inspections of suspected arms sites and that there would be consequences if Baghdad failed to live up to the requirements.
He reported there had been “some convergence” among council members on the conceptual level but that a lot of work had to be done on the text of a resolution.
“There is an understanding that the Security Council needs to take hold of this issue and specify what the rules are... and that there need to be consequences... should Iraq defy once again the will of the international community,” Boucher said.
The US Congress this week is to take up a proposed resolution giving Bush the authority to act, and it is expected to easily approve the measure within the next week to 10 days.
But Democrats, fighting to keep control of the US Senate and recapture the House of Representatives in the November elections, remain split on the issue.
Some key Democrats say the President has failed to demonstrate that there is an immediate threat that must be answered by force.
“I will not support that resolution,” Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said yesterday.
But Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana said, “We should act before it’s too late.”
Opinion polls show around 60 per cent of Americans support a war against Iraq, but doubts increase when they are asked to consider US casualties or a war without UN backing.
Bush has made his case against Iraq a cornerstone of his political fund-raising and campaign speeches for congressional candidates, but the trip to Cincinnati had fewer campaign overtones.