Washington On the eve of a showdown over Iraq, President Bush said Thursday the United Nations must help him confront Saddam Hussein or "fade into history as an ineffective, irrelevant, debating society."
As Bush issued his call for unity, the administration said Americans should be prepared for "a fairly long-term commitment" in Iraq if the United States goes to war.
Secretary of State Colin Powell told the House Budget Committee he had no estimate of the cost of war with Iraq. But he did say he thought Iraq should be able to adjust quickly afterward -- in contrast to the slow pace of recovery in Afghanistan.
"I would hope that it would be a short conflict and that it would be directed at the leadership, not the society," he said. Iraq has an effective bureaucracy, rich oil resources and a developed middle class, the secretary of state said.
The flurry of events laid the groundwork for Friday, when U.N. weapons inspectors are to report to the Security Council on whether Iraq is complying with orders to disarm. Bush is expected to quickly follow up with a request for a U.N. resolution authorizing force.
However, the top U.N. nuclear weapons inspector said Thursday that inspections should continue.
"We're still in midcourse, but we are moving forward, and I see no reason for us to bring the inspection process to a halt," Mohamed ElBaradei said in an interview with The Associated Press as he drafted his report on a flight from Vienna, Austria, to New York.
U.N. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hans Blix, who heads the hunt for Baghdad's biological and chemical weapons, would address a French proposal to triple the number of inspectors.
During a visit to Mayport Naval Station in Florida, Bush told cheering sailors, "I'm optimistic that free nations will show backbone and courage in the face of true threats to peace and freedom."
"I believe when it's all said and done, free nations will not allow the United Nations to fade into history as an ineffective, irrelevant, debating society," he said.
On Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers questioned whether Bush's focus on Iraq could hurt the broader war against terrorists, particularly Osama bin Laden's network suspected in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"The clear and present danger that we face in our country is from terrorism and from al-Qaida," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California as lawmakers heard testimony from Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Pelosi said it is important that "we don't take our eye off that ball."
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, in a speech the White House pointed to, said Saddam could spring "like a jack-in-the-box" against the United States and could not be simply contained as some Bush critics say.
|¢ Iraq may have committed a "serious breach" with a missile that experts determined can fly beyond a U.N.-imposed range, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.¢ NATO canceled an emergency meeting to discuss its bitter split about Iraq after Germany insisted any breakthrough would have to wait until today's U.N. Security Council meeting.German Defense Minister Peter Struck suggested his country would be prepared to drop its opposition to a plan for NATO to help defend Turkey in case of war with Iraq.|
"Containment failed yesterday in Iraq. Containment fails today. And containment will fail tomorrow," McCain said. "The threat posed by Saddam Hussein will not diminish until he is removed from power."
The United States says Iraq has weapons of mass destruction in violation of several U.N. resolutions, an assertion denied by Baghdad. The president has said war is his last resort to disarm Saddam while making it clear that time is running out on any other options.
Flanked by a Navy frigate and cruiser, American flags whipping in the wind above, Bush said the armed forces are "brave and ready" to confront Baghdad and any other threats to U.S. interests.
"We'll protect America and our friends and allies from these thugs," the president said.
Several allies, including France, Germany and Russia, want to give the inspectors more time, and have forced a divisive showdown in NATO to make their point.
Bush has said he would welcome a new U.N. resolution to bolster his case, but says he is willing to confront Saddam without one.
Powell told the House Budget Committee that if war comes and is won, a U.S. military leader would take temporary charge of Iraq. That person would give way to a prominent American or international figure, whose own term would be limited with an eye toward turning over the government to the Iraqis themselves, the secretary of state said.
"We would try to build as much as we can on the structure that is there. The challenge would be to put in place a representative leadership," Powell said.
Rumsfeld said the price tag for war in Iraq would be "heck of a lot less than 9-11 cost and 9-11 would cost a heck of a lot less than a chemical or biological 9-11," referring to administration concerns that Iraq could provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.
Associated Press writers George Jahn and Dafna Linzer contributed to this report from New York.