As Congress voted to authorize military action against Iraq, hopes for averting war hinged on a meeting in Baghdad today between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and a United Nations emissary. As preparations for battle continued, peace marchers took to the streets.

U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar arrived in Baghdad yesterday and said he hoped "to convey possibly good news" after his meeting today with Saddam. The United States, meanwhile, closed its embassy in Baghdad and pulled out its diplomatic staff.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III continued to seek commitments from U.S. allies to join in a military operation to drive Iraq from Kuwait. Egypt said yes, but Syria has not agreed to be part of an attack force.

Israel has decided to absorb an Iraqi first strike, if it comes, rather than launch a preemptive attack, according to Israeli officials. But the officials said Israel probably would retaliate if attacked.

The State Department yesterday ordered the expulsion of all but four Iraqi diplomats from their embassy here "to reduce Iraq's ability to orchestrate terrorism."

Protesters marched across Europe yesterday, including almost 200,000 Germans in about 70 cities, and also gathered at the White House and the U.S. Capitol.