With a speech aides say the White House signed off on in advance, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, the No. 3 House Republican, made one of the most forceful cases for war against Iraq.

"I'm here today to make the case for war with Iraq. Saddam must go, and the sooner, the better," DeLay told the Houston Forum in Texas. "It's vital because a war on terrorism that left the world's leading purveyor and practitioner of terror in power would be a palpable failure."

At times, DeLay seemed to quote administration policy directly, saying that pre-emption in Iraq is the key to victory over terror.

"Ending Saddam's dictatorship would deprive terrorist groups of refuge, training, support, and access to Saddam's weapons of mass destruction," he said.

DeLay offered only a partial list of Saddam's documented offenses, referring to his manufacturing of anthrax and VX nerve gas and the use of gas against Iraqi Kurds that DeLay said killed 5,000 people in 1988.

"In 1993, he tried to assassinate former President Bush and the emir of Kuwait. He attacked Israel with Scud missiles during the Gulf War. For 12 years, he has fired at American aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones. What more do you need?" he asked.

He also blasted those who argue that so far there is insufficient justification for war and not enough international support. DeLay acknowledged dissent, even among Republicans, then ripped into administration diplomats who've been dragging their feet.

"The impertinence of some government officials within the executive branch only magnifies our difficulties. The U.S. State Department would do well to remember that it answers to the president of the United States, not the European Union."

DeLay argued that America has become a "super-duper power" with a higher obligation, adding that while the U.S. opposes Fidel Castro's Communist regime in Cuba, stands with Israel against terrorism and backs Taiwan against aggression from Communist China, now the United States must stand up for itself.