The American Civil Liberties Union, joined by 51 other national organizations, is calling on Congress to adopt a resolution intended to prevent President Bush from starting a war with Iraq without a congressional OK.

The statement issued Tuesday urged Congress, which is to convene a new session on Jan. 3, to "adopt, prior to the initiation of any offensive military action, a resolution asserting that . . . the president cannot initiate an offensive war against Iraq without the prior authorization of Congress."Such a resolution is expected to be introduced in the House on Jan. 3 by Reps. Charles Bennett, D-Fla., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and in the Senate by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

In its statement, the ACLU and the other groups cited Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution, which deals with the enumerated powers of Congress and specifically mentions the power to declare war.

"The Constitution clearly requires Congressional authorization prior to an offensive military action by the president," said Morton Halperin, director of the ACLU Washington office.

"Defense Secretary (Dick) Cheney is simply wrong to assert that the president does not require any further authority from Congress before committing U.S. forces to military action in the Gulf," he said.

Cheney, in testimony before Congress in early December, said: "I do not believe the president requires any additional authorization from the Congress before committing U.S. forces to achieve our objective in the Gulf."

In addition, the administration in defending itself against a suit brought by Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Calif., and 52 other members of Congress asking the court to order Bush to seek a declaration of war, argued that the constitutional meaning of Congress's power to declare war in no way inhibits the president from deploying the armed forces into battle.

Gary Stern, an ACLU legislative counsel, however, said the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia affirmed the ACLU's reading of the Constitution rather than the administration's and Cheney's in its recent decision on the Dellums suit.