WASHINGTON - As President Bush turned up the pressure yesterday on the United Nations to take a tough stance against Iraq, a retired Marine general warned Congress that U.S. troops could face a "nightmare scenario" if Iraqi forces dig in to defend Baghdad.
"The result would be high casualties on both sides, as well as in the civilian community," former Gen. Joseph Hoar told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "U.S. forces would certainly prevail, but at what cost, and at what cost as the rest of the world watches while we bomb and have artillery rounds exploded in densely populated Iraqi neighborhoods."
Hoar, who replaced Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf as the top U.S. commander in the Middle East after the 1991 Persian Gulf war, urged Congress to "slow down and be cautious" before committing to military action.
But retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney told the same Senate panel that the United States could gain effective military control within 72 hours with a blitz attack combining precision airstrikes, fast-moving ground troops, covert operations and support from Iraqi rebels.
Bush showed no hesitation about risks as he sought to rally international support for possible military action. Speaking to enthusiastic crowds in Trenton, N.J., Bush declared Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein a menace to civilization.
"I want to see strong resolutions coming out of that U.N.: a resolution which says the old ways of deceit are gone, a resolution which will hold this man to account, a resolution which will allow freedom-loving countries to disarm Saddam Hussein," Bush said.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, hoping to head off war, urged Hussein to follow through on Iraq's offer to accept unconditional weapons inspections. U.S. officials have dismissed the Iraqi proposal as a cynical ploy to divert the threat of a U.S.-led attack.
"We advised the Iraqis not to hedge their acceptance of the return of the inspectors. It has to be clear they are going back without conditions," Annan told reporters at a U.N. news conference. "As far as I see it, it is a commitment by Iraq for the inspectors to go in and get their work done in an unimpeded manner."
The possibility of new weapons inspections has complicated Bush's efforts to enlist support for swift, decisive action by offering a possible alternative to war. Iraq's offer has become a rallying point for nations that are reluctant to endorse U.S.-led military strikes. U.N. inspectors hope to be in Iraq by Oct. 15, but their work could take many months.
Meanwhile, in a two-track approach, Bush is seeking resolutions of support for his gun-to-the-head ultimatum approach to Iraq from both Congress and the United Nations.
Congress is expected to debate a resolution authorizing military action next week. The outlook at the United Nations is less certain, but U.S. and British officials hope to circulate a draft resolution tomorrow that would clear the way for military action.