The warnings came about as 10 key members of Congress sent a letter to President George W. Bush earlier in the week encouraging him to set his sights on Saddam Hussein's regime as the next target in the war.
"As we work to clean up Afghanistan and destroy al Qaida, it is imperative that we plan to eliminate the threat from Iraq," they noted.
Signers of the letter included Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., Jesse Helms, R-N.C., Trent Lott, R-Miss., Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who is chairman of the House International Relations Committee.
The warnings not to attack Iraq came from Scott Ritter, a former arms inspector who led 30 missions in Iraq, 14 of them as chief of the United Nations inspection team, and Edward Peck, a former U.S. ambassador to Baghdad in the Carter administration. Peck was also deputy director of the Reagan administration's task force on terrorism.
Both warned the United States not to attack Iraq once the Afghanistan phase of the anti-terrorism war is completed.
During a talk at the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine in Washington on Friday, both veteran Middle East hands asked the Bush administration not to heed the hawks in government who are demanding that military action be taken against Iraqi strongman Saddam.
"I hope that Attorney General John Ashcroft does not take exception to what I am about to say and label me a terrorist," said Ritter. "Now we talk about the next phase, and this is where I get a little nervous."
Ritter, who was one of the last arms inspectors in Iraq before the 1990-91 Gulf War, criticized the Bush administration, which, he said, "lacks definition" in its policy on Iraq.
Ritter said the president accused those who fund and train terrorists of being terrorists. "The Saudis funded the madrassas (schools) where terrorists were trained. Does this make them terrorists, too?" asked the former U.S. Marine and arms inspector. "Are we going to war against Pakistan? I think not."
Ritter rejected recent intelligence reports linking Mohammad Atta, one of the Sept. 11 hijackers and ringleaders, to Iraqi intelligence.
"The meeting in Prague between Mohammad Atta and Iraqi intelligence was to discuss blowing up Radio Free Europe, which broadcasts messages aimed against Saddam Hussein. It is a legitimate target."
Ritter whose task in Iraq included identifying, finding and destroying Iraqi biochemical and nuclear facilities, believes there was no link between Iraq and the recent spate of anthrax-spiked letters in the United States.
"The anthrax letters were almost certainly from a (U.S.) Department of Defense source," he said. "Scratch the Iraq link."
Iraq, said Ritter, did not kick out the United Nations inspectors, it was the United States that asked them to leave before the bombing of Baghdad started in 1990, shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Both Ritter and former ambassador Peck do not believe Iraq presents a threat today, and that even Israel does not see Saddam as an immediate threat any longer. "Iraq was a threat in 1990, not today."
"Should the United States pursue its unilateral decision to take down Saddam Hussein, it will be nothing more than a modern version of Vietnam," declared Ritter.
Peck, who served in Baghdad, said the American media were incapable of telling the American people information they don't want to hear. He rejected the United States' support of the London-based Iraqi opposition known as the Iraqi National Congress, calling them "silk-shirted, three piece-suited losers in London." The INC, said Peck, was not a feasible alternative.
"If we can push the Catholics and Protestants to talk in Northern Ireland, and push (Israeli Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon and (Palestinian Authority leader) Yasser Arafat to talk, why can't we talk to Iraq?" asked Peck.
He blamed the continuing sanctions against Iraq to be partially at fault for the hatred directed against America.
"American people are loved," he said, "but their policy is not. They cannot attack our policy, so they attack us."
Peck said half a million children have died in Iraq as a result of the continuing sanctions. "Compare that to 60,000 people who died in Hiroshima."
Peck admitted the half-million figure may well be inflated, "but," he argued, "would you feel more comfortable with 320,000, or 10,000 deaths instead? Just where do you draw the line?"
Speaking of Saddam, Peck said, "Leave the guy alone, he is not a threat."
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