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Bush cites 'progress' in war

Sends letter to Congress on military action

President Bush meets with his war council in the Situation Room of the White House on Friday.
President Bush meets with his war council in the Situation Room of the White House on Friday.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After reporting "progress" in the war in Iraq, President Bush headed to Camp David Friday, where he is to keep abreast of developments with briefings from key advisers throughout the weekend.

Before he departed for the presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains, Bush sent a letter to Congress, formally notifying it of his decision to strike Iraq, saying "only the use of armed force" would force Saddam to disarm and protect the United States.

In his one-page letter, required under the War Powers Act, Bush said it was not possible to predict the scope or duration of the military campaign. (Full letter)

The administration believes the senior Iraqi leadership is in "complete confusion ... complete disarray" and that even if he is alive, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is not exercising minute-to-minute authority over his military commanders, an administration official told CNN.

As the U.S. military launched what sources said would be the most aggressive cycle of bombings of the three-day-old campaign, this official said the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence officials have told Iraqi commanders that Saddam "is not in control, or at least not exercising control" on any regular basis.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Saddam's regime was "starting to lose control of their country," as U.S. and coalition forces unleashed a punishing air attack on Baghdad and northern Iraqi cities. Sources said the intensity of the bombing campaign could be scaled back by commanding Gen. Tommy Franks if political developments warranted.

Secretary of State Powell said a number of "channels" were open to members of the Iraqi leadership about surrender or heading into exile, even as the military campaign continues. Powell said the message in those talks was that the fall of the Saddam regime was inevitable and that Iraqi commanders would be wise to surrender.

'Making progress'

Bush met throughout the day with his top advisers, getting updates on progress in the war. In the morning, he invited congressional leaders to the White House, briefing them on developments.

"We're making progress," Bush told reporters at the start of the meeting. "We will stay on task until we've achieved our objective, which is to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and free the Iraqi people so they can live in a society that is hopeful and democratic and at peace in its neighborhood."

Early Friday, the House, after hours of debate, passed by an overwhelming vote a resolution expressing support for U.S. armed forces and the president. Thursday, the Senate passed a similar resolution. The House debate was marked by some partisanship as several Democrats objected to language that strongly praised the president; they said the focus should be on the troops.(Full story)

Bush said the resolutions sent a "loud and clear" message of support for the men and women in uniform.

"Not only do we support those brave souls who were sacrificing on our behalf, but we want to thank their parent and their families for their dedication as well," Bush said, as Vice President Dick Cheney sat at his side.

Attending the meeting were Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, D-California. Daschle and Pelosi were critical of Bush's handling of the Iraqi crisis preceding the war.

A senior administration official said the president was informed first thing this morning of the casualties suffered in combat and in a helicopter accident and voiced his condolences for the families of the American and British servicemen.(Full story)

Rice traveled with the president to Camp David, and there are secure facilities at the mountain Maryland retreat to allow the president to conduct his regular military and national security briefings and meetings -- either in person or by secure video conference.

Bush, for example, conducted several key post-September 11 national security sessions at Camp David, and White House officials said the former President Bush traveled to Camp David during the first weekend of the first Persian Gulf War.

--Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.

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