The group, made up overwhelmingly of Democrats, spoke out as antiwar demonstrations were being planned for today and Sunday in Washington and in cities around the world.
"We fear for the innocent citizens of Iraq who will be killed by our bombs, and for the families in the United States who will receive body bags with the remains of their sons and daughters, if our troops are ordered to invade Iraq," they wrote in their joint statement.
Members of the group said their status as former lawmakers allowed them to voice their concerns without fear of the political repercussions they said might silence those serving in government. Leading the charge were former Maine Rep. Thomas H. Andrews, who serves as the national director of the grass-roots coalition Win Without War, and former Pennsylvania Rep. Robert W. Edgar, who is the general secretary of the National Council of Churches, a body of Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox Christian denominations.
While some said they might support a U.S.-led attack if it is waged with U.N. Security Council support, the group said a war with Iraq would be longer, deadlier and costlier than the administration is making it out to be.
"Even if an invasion of Iraq is successful in military terms, the aftermath is fraught with peril and unexpected consequences," the statement read. "Conflict may spread in the region. U.S. military personnel will have to remain in Iraq, perhaps for years. The United Nations would likely be weakened. And the United States would almost certainly emerge with a tarnished reputation as a world leader."
The White House had not yet received the statement, spokesman Scott McClellan said. "The United States Congress has already spoken in a very strong and bipartisan way to authorize the use of force to disarm Saddam Hussein," he said. "There is nothing more than the president would like than to see a peaceful resolution."
Eight former House members from California signed the statement, the largest number from any state. They were: Tony Beilenson, John Burton, Ronald Brooks Cameron, Don Edwards, Richard H. Lehman, Thomas M. Rees, Jerome Waldie and Paul N. "Pete" McCloskey Jr. McCloskey was one of four Republicans who signed the statement; the others were Paul Findley of Illinois; Charles Whalen of Ohio; and John Buchanan of Alabama.
Buchanan, who is an ordained Baptist minister and was the lone Republican voice at the group's news conference Friday, deplored the Bush administration's policy as "utter folly." Former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, a Democrat from New York, said the idea of a preemptive strike waged by the United States without U.N. support would be "a direct and complete violation of international law."
Many of the former lawmakers deplored the lack of serious opposition to the war by members of both parties in Congress.
"We are disappointed that there has not been clearer, stronger, louder voices of dissent and leadership in Congress," said Andrews, of Win Without War, a coalition that includes the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and several religious organizations. "We decided to provide that leadership on the ground in communities across this country."
Win Without War, along with the National Council of Churches, MoveOn.org and Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu of South Africa, have called for a global candlelight vigil to take place at 7 p.m. Sunday in each time zone.