Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said Tuesday that Congress should debate a declaration of war against Iraq but then should not declare war.

In a meeting with Deseret News reporters and editors, Owens defended the suit he and 44 other House Democrats filed Tuesday, seeking to prevent President Bush from attacking Iraq without authority from Congress.Asked if this is the time to consider a declaration of war, he replied, "No. It's appropriate to debate it. It is not appropriate in my view to take the offensive."

If war broke out, "the best scenario is terrible," he said.

Quoting Pentagon experts, Owens said 10,000 to 30,000 American lives could be lost, and there would be high casualties. In addition, there would be "maybe hundreds of thousands of Israelis dead.

"They'll (Iraqi forces) blow up the eastern Saudi Arabian oil fields, currently producing 8 million barrels per day." That would throw the world into a depression, he said.

Instead of offensive military action, the economic sanctions should be allowed to take effect, he said.

"We've got the power. We have the whole world on our side. We should use the economic and political tools."

Owens insisted he is not questioning President Bush's right to take action if an offensive is launched against American troops. In fact, he said, that would be the president's duty.

Critics say the Democrats who filed suit are "a bunch of liberals" but actually it is the conservative view that Congress has the war-making power, Owens said.

"The Constitution is very clear in my mind on the division of powers as they relate to war. The president clearly is the commander in chief of the armed forces and clearly has the responsibilities to protect American lives in a defensive posture."