Bush sends Iraq war letter to Congress
White House: Americans need to be prepared for deaths
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a letter to Congress, President Bush on Wednesday offered the administration's formal justification for war with Iraq, declaring that diplomacy had failed to resolve the crisis and tying military action to the battle against terrorism.
The letter, to the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore, comes on the same day that a U.S.-imposed deadline for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq expires at 8 p.m. ET. If Saddam does not leave, Bush has vowed to invade Iraq at a time of the United States' choosing.
As Bush prepared to order U.S. forces to strike Iraq and topple its regime, the White House said the president hopes the war will be "as precise and short as possible," but Americans need to be prepared for the loss of lives.
"The American people understand that if force is used, lives may be lost, indeed," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "I think there is no question the country understands that."
Fleischer said there is evidence of a "lot of unease inside Iraqi circles" but no indications that Saddam will "avail himself of the final chance to avoid military conflict."
In the letter, Bush said that further diplomatic efforts would not "adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq."
Bush sent the letter as part of one of the conditions set forth by a resolution passed by Congress in October when it authorized the use of force, if necessary, against Iraq.
Bush said any action against Iraq would be "consistent" with "necessary actions" against terrorists following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States.
Senior U.S. officials told CNN that Bush could give the "go" order to the military as early as Wednesday night. But these officials characterized the 8 p.m. deadline as a political deadline on the Iraqi leader, and said the president will act on the advice of his military team and could find a "tactical advantage" in waiting until after the deadline lapses to order an assault.
A full National Security Council meeting was held Wednesday morning, and Bush met separately with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. At those sessions, Bush received the latest information on military preparations and an assessment of weather and other conditions that could factor into a decision on when to go to war.
This senior official said, "It obviously is no surprise to anyone that a strike is coming," and that even beyond an assessment of weather conditions and other field conditions, it could be in the U.S. interest "to leave them staring at the sky for a little bit."
Another official said Bush deliberately chose the words that the United States will attack "at a time of its choosing," and said the looming deadline opens the door to military action "but is not in and of itself a determining factor in when we go."
Bush also held a morning Oval Office session with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to discuss preparations for possible terrorist strikes in the United States.
Aides said it is unlikely that Bush would speak publicly until after he makes his decision to launch a military offensive. That announcement that would be made in an Oval Office address.
In the meantime, these aides say Bush is trying to stick relatively close to his normal routine around a busy schedule of private meetings and telephone consultations, including a daily break for an afternoon workout.
In a morning session with reporters, Fleischer also said the administration no longer considered its previous aid package to Turkey to be "on the table." The United States had sought Turkey's permission to use the country as a staging area for an invasion of Iraq, but the Turkish parliament rejected the request.
Fleischer said the administration was awaiting word from the Turkish parliament on an effort to clear the way for U.S. warplanes to use Turkish air space in any war in Iraq.
--Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report