Iraq's parliament today unanimously rejected a U.N. resolution aimed at disarming the country, but, with the possibility of war hanging in the balance, it agreed that President Saddam Hussein should have the final say on whether Iraq will submit to another round of weapons inspections.
The parliament speaker, Saadoun Hammadi, described the vote as a political statement instead of a binding decision, calling it "a right and patriotic stance that expresses the Iraqi people's opinion." Speaker after speaker denounced the Security Council resolution, which was passed Friday after an intensive U.S. diplomatic campaign, as an infringement of Iraq's sovereignty and a pretext for U.S. military action.
"It is a message to the United States that the people of Iraq are united behind their leadership," Hammadi said of the decision by the National Assembly. "And it also shows that the people of Iraq know that in the U.N. resolution . . . there are major allegations which are baseless."
But the decision also illustrated what has long been evident about Iraq: Hussein is in charge. In its statement rejecting the U.N. resolution, the parliament expressed "full support" for Hussein's "wise leadership" and said he should take whatever steps he "considers appropriate to defend the Iraqi people and Iraq's independence and dignity."
The White House dismissed the vote as "pure theater."
"The Iraqi parliament is nothing but a rubber stamp for Saddam Hussein," President Bush told reporters in Washington. "There's no democracy. This guy's a dictator, and so we'd like to see what he says."
Some Arab diplomats and Iraqi political observers cast the parliament's decision as an orchestrated show of defiance that could be designed to express Iraqi displeasure with the resolution before Hussein grudgingly decides to accede to it. It is unusual, if not unprecedented, for Hussein to overrule his parliament. But today's statement, by making clear he has the last word, could still allow him to claim parliamentary support for compliance.
In an indication that Hussein might be moving toward acceptance of the U.N. resolution, his eldest son sent a letter to parliament calling on the country to agree to the Security Council's demands if Arabs were included in the inspection teams. "We must approve the Security Council's resolution with limits but without conditions," Uday Saddam Hussein wrote in a five-page letter that the Information Ministry provided to foreign journalists.
Uday Saddam Hussein, who is also a member of parliament, said the weapons inspections should take place under "an Arab umbrella." He called for "Arab experts and technical observers who are familiar with the nuclear, chemical and biological aspects" of inspections.
Arab foreign ministers made a similar request of the United Nations on Sunday in a communique calling for Iraq's compliance with the resolution.
Although the U.N. weapons inspection operation has not released the names and nationalities of all inspectors who will be sent to Iraq, one of the most senior people involved in the process, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is Egyptian. U.N. officials say a number of Arab nationals are on a roster of potential U.N. inspectors but that none of the full-time inspectors is Arab.
Some analysts said the letter from Uday Saddam Hussein could indicate that his father wants to push for changes in the U.N. resolution, an outcome U.S. officials have said would be unacceptable. Under terms of the resolution, Hussein has until Friday to accept it as it stands. If he fails to do so, the Bush administration could ask the Security Council to authorize force or opt to take unilateral military action.
"If Saddam Hussein does not comply to the detail of the resolution, we will lead a coalition to disarm him," Bush said during a tour of the Washington police headquarters. "We're through [with] negotiations. There's no more time. . . . He said he'd disarm. He now must disarm."
Russia and France, which have close ties with Iraq, urged Hussein to comply. During the debate last week at U.N. headquarters in New York, the two nations pushed to soften language in the resolution about the consequences Iraq could face because they felt Hussein deserved a final chance to cooperate.
Russia called on Hussein "to exercise self-control and pragmatism" by accepting the resolution. The Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov as saying the resolution "offers the possibility of avoiding the development of a situation of force around Iraq."
In some of the toughest comments from the French government to date, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin warned Hussein that he would face military action if he did not cooperate.
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, speaking to members of parliament here in Cairo, also urged Hussein to "realize the dangers of the situation" and allow in weapons inspectors "without any obstacles."
But in Iraq, officials have said Hussein's leadership believes a war is inevitable even if Hussein acquiesces. That point was underscored by Uday Saddam Hussein's letter, in which he urged the nation to undertake precautions for war.
"The U.N. resolution doesn't mean an end to the military threat," he said. The United States, he said, "can carry out a military act at any time, if any differences, however small, violate the conditions according to their understanding, even without returning to the Security Council."
Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.