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Ignoring fierce international opposition, the United States Congress has authorised President George W Bush to take a unilateral decision to invade Iraq.
The House of Representatives and the Senate adopted a resolution authorising Bush to launch what could be the world's first pre-emptive war -- a war not in response to something Baghdad has done, but due to apprehensions that President Saddam Hussein may use weapons of mass destruction against America and its allies.
The vote in the House of Representatives was 296 to 133 and in the Senate 77 to 23.
Reacting to the Congress' decision, Bush said: "The gathering threat of Iraq must be confronted fully and finally. The days of Iraq acting as an outlaw state are coming to an end."
The vote "also sends a clear message to the Iraqi regime. It must disarm and comply with all existing UN resolutions or it will be forced to comply. There are no other options for the Iraqi regime", he said on Thursday after the vote in the House of Representatives.
The vote authorises Bush to use force "in a manner necessary and appropriate" to defend the national security of the US against all continuing threats.
It also asks the government to enforce all relevant United Nations Security council resolutions regarding Iraq.
The mood in the Congress reflects the inevitability of war, analysts said, adding the only question is how long Bush is prepared to wait for a resolution from the UN Security Council.
"Giving peace a chance only gives Saddam Hussein more time to prepare for war on his terms, at a time of his choosing," Republican Senator John McCain said.
Among those who caution against war is former commander-in-chief of the Central Command General (retd) Anthony Zinni. When he was in service, West Asia fell under his jurisdiction.
"War and violence are a very last resort... especially now, in our position in the world," he said.
Zinni said he is not convinced "we need to do it now". Hussein "is containable at this moment", he added.
The White House has claimed that Bush, if he decides on war, would do so as the head of a coalition. However, the only member of the coalition it has named is Britain.
The White House has consistently stated that while many Arab rulers are afraid to speak out against Hussein, they will shed no tears if Bush removes him from power.
One complicating factor is the "Arab Street," that is popular opinion, dubbing the US pro-Israel. "The perceived bias" in favour of Israel, The Washington Post reported, "feeds resentment" in West Asia.
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