Iraq was moving toward welcoming back UN arms inspectors in a bid to stave off war as US battle plans to deploy 250,000 troops were leaked in the press.
Baghdad was officially still "quietly studying" UN Resolution 1441, but the signs that it would accept before the November 15 deadline were growing despite the tough terms for disarmament.
But state television reported that President Saddam Hussein had summoned an urgent meeting of parliament to discuss the resolution.
State-run Sunday papers front-paged a terse report by the official INA news agency that the Iraqi leadership would "issue the appropriate signal ... in the coming days."
Government daily Al-Jumhuriya stressed that Iraq had foiled US attempts to secure UN approval for automatic recourse to force and also hinted that the resolution might be a stepping stone to secure a lifting of UN sanctions.
"Despite the adoption of the bad and unfair Resolution 1441 ... the growing popular Arab, European and world opposition to aggressive US schemes against Iraq .... exposed the wicked US-British plot against Iraq and thwarted its first stage," Al-Jumhuriya wrote.
That first stage was the planned "automatic recourse to force and aggression against Iraq."
Arab leaders meeting in Cairo were confident of Baghdad's acceptance of the UN resolution.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told an Arab League foreign ministers' meeting that Baghdad had accepted the UN resolution after obtaining assurances from Security Council member Syria that it does not entail automatic recourse to military action.
"The Arab ministers welcomed Iraq's acceptance of Resolution 1441, following assurances from Syria that this resolution does not provide for automatic military action (against Baghdad)," Prince Saud told reporters in Cairo, after the meeting ended early Sunday.
However, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri insisted Baghdad had still "not announced its position."
His Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Maher, who held talks with him both Saturday and Sunday, noted "statements at the highest level in Baghdad on the readiness to cooperate with any resolution which carries assurances that it does not foresee a military strike."
The new resolution adopted Friday imposes a stringent arms inspection regime on Baghdad and warns of "serious consequences" if it does not disarm.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the fact that it "does not contain a mechanism for the use of force."
But the sole Arab member of the Security Council, Syria, was not so sure.
Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara conceded that the resolution "rules out the
specter of war for several weeks or several months," but added that it also contains
"traps and ambiguities which can be negative".
"We hope that our Iraqi brothers do not yield to American provocations from now on, because the provocations are a means which the United States is counting on a lot to say Iraq has not respected UN resolutions."
Adding substance to his warnings, key US ally Australia said Sunday it remained ready to back the United States if it took military action against Iraq to punish any infraction, even without specific UN endorsement.
"We say it is then their (Washington's) responsibility to ensure, through whatever
means is necessary, that that resolution is implemented in full," said Defense
Minister Robert Hill.
Another US ally, Britain, was less sure. Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon insisted
it would be for the Security Council to decide what action to take if UN weapons
inspectors reported a breach by Iraq.
"Obviously there would have to be a discussion amongst members of the Security Council at that stage."
The New York Times meanwhile reported that war plans approved by President George W. Bush included a shorter air campaign than in the 1991 Gulf War, but deployment of up to 250,000 troops.
The air campaign would last less than a month and would build on lessons learned in Afghanistan, such as using infiltrated commandos to help home precision-guided missiles in on their targets, according to the Times, quoting unnamed senior administration officials.
"While we would not want to kill many Iraqi soldiers, if they stupidly fight, we will," a senior military official told the Times.
And Britain will also begin mobilizing a fighting force of 15,000 troops this
week to take part in a land war in Iraq if diplomatic efforts to disarm Saddam
fail, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
A Defense ministry spokeswoman dismissed the report but Hoon confirmed that
Britain was "not ruling out the use of force" and would remain "prepared" for
The Syrian foreign minister said he believed the "spark" would be a "report from (UN weapons) inspectors."
But the United Nations' twin inspections chiefs made clear in Arabic press interviews Sunday that they planned to refrain from provoking Iraq.
"I do not think we are going to kick down doors," the chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), Hans Blix, told the London-based daily Al-Hayat.
"We will behave firmly, seriously and with tact."
The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohammed el-Baradei, said the inspectors would use "common sense".
"That means that our demand for immediate access does not include breaking into houses."
The Economist Intelligence Unit said it believed a US-led attack remained highly likely next year, anticipating that it would be quick with only a limited impact on the world economy.
"The effects of a war should be confined mainly to changes in the price of oil," the London-based think tank said.
In Europe, peace campaigners remained vigilant about the continuing possibility
of war, calling continent-wide protests for February 15 after hundreds of thousands
marched in Florence, Italy, Saturday.
Copyright 2002 AFP