A federal judge, ruling on a lawsuit filed by 54 congressional Democrats, refused to block President Bush from committing U.S. forces to a Persian Gulf war without first getting approval from Congress.

U.S. District Judge Harold Greene, in denying a preliminary injunction Thursday, nevertheless suggested that the lawsuit might have prevailed had it been backed by a majority of the Congress."It is only if the majority of the Congress seeks relief from an infringement on its constitutional war-declaration power that it may be entitled to receive it," Greene wrote in his 29 page decision.

But Greene sided with the congressmen on a key point, saying the Constitution does grant Congress the authority to declare war.

"The court is not prepared to read out of the Constitution the clause granting to Congress, and to it alone, the authority `to declare war,' " Greene wrote.

The congressmen, including Rep. Wayne Owens of Utah and led by Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Calif., filed suit last month challenging Bush's authority to commit troops to the Persian Gulf in preparation for an offensive action without first getting approval from Congress. The lawsuit is based on the war powers clause of the Constitution, which grants Congress authority "to declare war."

Even though the decision did not go his way, Dellums said he was pleased Greene concluded the Constitution grants war-making powers to Congress.