Two prominent American experts on Iraq are cautioning the Bush administration not to go after Iraq in what is being termed as the possible "second phase" of America's new war on terrorism.
Their warnings came as 10 key members of Congress sent a letter to President Bush 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 during 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.
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."
"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."
As for Saddam, Peck said, "Leave the guy alone, he is not a threat."
-- Do you agree? Why or why not? Should the United States take military action against Iraq once the Afghani situation is stabilized?
POLLS, WE GOT POLLS
Forty-one percent of Americans say they think American citizen John Walker, captured with Taliban forces in Afghanistan, should be tried for treason for fighting on the side of the enemy. That's according a Newsweek Poll of 1,003 people taken last week. But a virtually identical 40 percent say Walker should only be charged and tried if there is evidence he committed specific crimes during the fighting.
Meanwhile, the survey --- which appears in the Dec. 17 issue -- found support for President Bush and the military campaign in Afghanistan remains high. Eighty-two percent of Americans approve of the way Bush is handling his job, his lowest rating since Sept. 11. And 88 percent approve of the military action against terrorism. A slim majority (53 percent) still believes that to capture or kill Osama bin Laden would indeed hurt the terrorist cause and reduce the chances of future terrorist attacks; just 29 percent think it would make bin Laden a martyr and inspire others to commit acts of terrorism.
-- What do you think?
RELIGION IN AMERICA
The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 have brought about a dramatic rise in the number of Americans believing that religion is becoming more important, according to a new national survey conducted last month and released last Thursday.
The sample group of 1,500 people told researchers of the Princeton Survey Research Associates, who were commissioned by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, that the influence of faith on American life was growing -- rating a 78 percent. This compares with 37 percent last March. It even exceeds the previously highest figure, which was 69 percent in 1959.
In a companion report on religion in American public life, titled Lift Every Voice, the Pew authors wrote, "The conclusion that religion is experiencing a comeback around the country must come as a surprise to ordinary Americans who were never aware that religion had gone away.
"After all, over 90 percent of Americans have consistently reported a belief in God since the advent of scientific polling in the mid-1930s and nearly two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) call religion very important."
The report went on, "It is not that Americans become more religious. Even the initial rise in the number of those praying and attending worship services following Sept. 11 has returned to normal levels.
"But while Americans have not fundamentally altered their personal religious practices, they have changed their perceptions about religion's importance in American life."
The Pew analysts stressed one important phenomenon, however: Those who had already been very religious before Sept. 11, have become even more so now.
Of the "very religious," 56 percent said in November that they were praying more. Of the "fairly religious," 35 percent, gave this answer, while only 10 percent of the "not very religious" reported a more intensive prayer life. Overall, 44 percent of all respondents reported to be praying more, a marked drop from 59 percent immediately after the terror attacks on New York and Washington.
-- What role does religion play in your life? Has it changed since Sept. 11? Why or why not?