Iraq's President Saddam Hussein called an emergency session of parliament amid continuing signs he may accept tough UN terms to disarm and avert the war Washington warns is the only other option.
MPs were to meet behind closed doors at about 7:00 p.m. (1600 GMT) on the new Security Council disarmament Resolution 1441, parliamentary sources said.
"The National Assembly is expected to express support for Iraq's leadership and mandate it to take the decision it deems to be in the interest of the Iraqi people," a source close to parliament told AFP.
That in effect means that the 250-seat parliament will leave it to the Revolution Command Council (RCC), which is chaired by Saddam, to take the decision.
The assembly was expected to have harsh words about the UN resolution, amplifying the official line that it is "bad and unfair," as an "authorized source" described it to the official INA news agency Saturday.
The same source, however, said that the Iraqi leadership was "quietly studying" Resolution 1441, confirming that Baghdad is leaving the door open to acceptance by the November 15 deadline.
Official press commentaries Monday offered no new clues to Iraq's likely response to the resolution, but stressed that Baghdad had all along cooperated with the Security Council and met its obligations under relevant council resolutions.
Meanwhile, US officials would not confirm leaked plans for an attack on Iraq with up to 250,000 troops published in two daily newspapers, saying, however, that Saddam should take the reports as a message it is serious about ending his alleged nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs.
The officials underlined that the United States does not require UN permission to act against Iraq, and may still do so alone.
"If I were Saddam Hussein I would take this with a great deal of concern and seriousness," Secretary of State Colin Powell told CBS television.
In Cairo, Arab foreign ministers urged Iraq to accept the resolution as a way to avoid war and Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said he hoped UN inspectors would "not resort to provocations."
He emphasized, however, that "Iraq has not yet taken a decision" on the Security Council resolution.
The Arab League ministers, echoing Syrian fears that only an immediate strike had been thwarted, issued a statement Sunday urging the council to respect its "assurances" not to use the new resolution as a pretext for an invasion.
Friday's resolution gave Iraq seven days to agree to comply, and until December 8 to give a full accounting of its weapons programs or expose itself to retaliation. Baghdad has denied having weapons of mass destruction.
Arab League foreign ministers, as well as asking for continued UN-Iraq cooperation "to settle peacefully all the outstanding problems, as a prelude to a lifting of sanctions imposed on Iraq and to end the blockade imposed on it," also urged that Arab nationals be allowed to participate in the teams of experts.
Meanwhile US and British warplanes late Sunday struck two anti-aircraft missile sites in southern Iraq, using precision-guided weapons, after they assumed what was deemed a threatening position toward the allies under UN rules, the US Central Command announced.
On Thursday, planes of the US-British coalition hit an Iraqi air defense operations facility and an integrated operations center near the city of Al Kut in the southern no-fly zone.
As far as US-led military action against Saddam is concerned, White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said US President George W. Bush "reserves the right to act on behalf of the interest and the security of the American people, and indeed world security, should there not be a decision to take force there."
Rice said US officials were waiting to see if Iraq would comply, but remained
She also noted that the council's resolution bars chief UN inspector Hans Blix,
who expects to arrive in Baghdad on November 18, from judging Iraq's compliance,
a sore spot for Washington in the past.
"His job is to report the facts," Rice said. "It's not to determine whether there has been a material breach. It's not to determine whether there has been a violation."
US newspapers reported leaked Pentagon plans for an invasion of Iraq with up to 250,000 troops that envisaged quickly seizing much of the country and isolating forces loyal to Saddam in Baghdad and Saddam's hometown of Tikrit.
The Washington Post and the New York Times, quoting senior US officials, said the plan foresaw a lightning strike by land, sea and air forces in the hopes Saddam's government would quickly collapse.
Military officials agreed on a larger force favored by Central Command chief General Tommy Franks over a plan to use 100,000 men with the accent on special operations troops, the dailies reported.
Copyright 2002 AFP