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U.S. group lands in Iraq criticizing threats of war
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- It would be immoral for America to attack Iraq without provocation, a former U.S. senator said here Saturday.
James Abourezk, who used to represent South Dakota in the senate, was speaking to reporters after he, Democratic West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall and two other Americans met with Iraqi Health Minister Omed Medhat Mubarak.
The four-man delegation arrived overnight in Iraq, saying it intended to push for peace as well as the return of U.N. weapons inspectors.
It is the first time in several years that a sitting U.S. legislator has visited Iraq, which has been under U.N. sanctions since it invaded Kuwait in 1990.
"We are on a humanitarian mission ... not only to convince the Iraqi people that the American people are concerned with their suffering, but also to show that the American people, their vast majority, are peace-waging individuals," Rahall told reporters after flying in from Syria.
President Bush told the U.N. General Assembly this week that the Iraqi government must grant access to U.N. weapons inspectors or face confrontation. Ratcheting up the pressure Friday, Bush said he was "talking days and weeks" for a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution that would demand Iraq admit inspectors or face the consequences.
Iraq has barred inspectors, who are charged with verifying the elimination of its weapons of mass destruction, since 1998.
After the meeting with the health minister, Abourezk criticized moves toward an attack on Iraq and said the United States was motivated by Israel.
"If America launched an attack on somebody without any provocation and declaration of war, then it will lose its moral standards," Abourezk said.
"Bush, pushed by Israel, is trying to build a case against Iraq without evidence," he said.
Israel has accused Iraq of sponsoring terror by financing the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and trying to smuggle weapons into the Palestinian areas.
Before the meeting with the health minister, Rahall said that if he were to meet Iraqi officials, "it is my desire to stress upon the Iraqi government and its president that they must accept unconditional access to their country by U.N. weapons inspectors."
Rahall said the return of inspectors would be a step toward peace, but he declined to say if it would put an end to Bush's desire to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"I cannot speak on behalf of President Bush. I am not here as a secretary of state or a weapons inspector. I am here as individual member of congress who has questions that I would like to get answers to," Rahall said.
The delegation visited al-Mansour Children's Hospital in Baghdad, where Rahall met leukemia patients and gave toys to the children.
The delegation's trip is sponsored by the Institute for Public Accuracy, a Washington-based group of analysts.
The other delegates are Norman Solomon, the institute's executive director, and James Jennings, the president of Conscience International -- an Atlanta-based aid and rights group.