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Lott raps U.S. congressman in Iraq

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, left, and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington, in Baghdad.
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, left, and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington, in Baghdad.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A congressman who questioned U.S. efforts to link Iraq to the al Qaeda terrorist network should "come home and keep his mouth shut," Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said Sunday.

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington, who is one of three House members visiting Iraq to urge Iraqi officials to avert war by allowing U.N. weapons inspectors back in, has acted irresponsibly, Lott said.

"For him to be in Baghdad, the center of one of the most dangerous dictators in the world, with all kinds of weapons of mass destruction, to be questioning the veracity of our own American president, is the height of irresponsible," said Lott, R-Mississippi. "He needs to come home and keep his mouth shut."

McDermott said President Bush's goal of ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has overshadowed efforts to get Iraq to give up weapons of mass destruction, which Baghdad denies having. He also questioned Bush administration officials' recent contentions that Iraq and al Qaeda are linked.

"Why do they keep coming back to this issue and keep trying to hook the Iraqis into that?" McDermott asked on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer." "My question really is, why do they want the regime change? I would much rather have disarmament here. And what they're doing is really setting up to throw out Saddam Hussein."

McDermott went further in an interview with ABC's "This Week." "I think the president would mislead the American people," he said.

His statements also drew a sharp response from Lott's deputy in the Senate GOP leadership, Sen. Don Nickles, R-Oklahoma.

McDermott and the other two congressmen visiting Iraq -- Rep. David Bonior, D-Michigan, and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California -- were "taking the line of the Baghdad government," Nickles told ABC.

Congress is moving toward a vote on whether to give President Bush the power to take military action against Iraq if it refuses to comply with U.N. resolutions demanding it give up weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq has offered to re-admit weapons inspectors after a four-year absence, but announced Saturday that it would reject a new resolution giving it seven days to agree to disarm.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, called the Iraqi offer to allow inspectors to return "a bit of a charade."

"One wonders about the lack of skepticism on the part of some people about the Iraqi sincerity in saying they would return to a previous regimen of inspections which they obfuscated, delayed and stymied," he told CNN.

Calls for caution

Democrats are divided on the Iraq issue, while few Republicans have raised questions about Bush's policy.

Sen. John Breaux, D-Louisiana, compared the Iraqi offer of new inspections to a statement attributed to Prohibition-era mobster Al Capone: '"You can inspect my business anywhere you want -- just don't go in the back room where the girls and the gambling happens to be.'

"[Saddam is] saying, 'Look, you can come inspect, but I will tell you where you can go, when you can go and under what conditions you can inspect our country.' And that's not acceptable," Breaux told "Fox News Sunday."

Other Democrats urged the Bush administration to pursue all alternatives before deciding to go to war against Iraq.

"We shouldn't be rushing toward war," Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a prominent anti-war Ohio Democrat, told CBS' "Face the Nation." "We should be patient. We should look for negotiations still, at this point."

The world needs to ensure that Saddam does not have nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, "but the way to do that is to get the U.N. and the international community involved," Kucinich said.

McCain said he favors military action to disarm Iraq and oust Saddam, but welcomed debate.

"We need to have all of these views ventilated," he said. "The American people need to be informed."

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