Iraq rebuff of UN may be brief

The Iraqi parliament rejected inspections, leaving Hussein room to maneuver.

Now comes the backpedaling - at least in theory.

Iraq's National Assembly voted Tuesday to reject any cooperation with the UN's plans to disarm the country, but this rebuff may make it easier for President Saddam Hussein to agree to a new round of United Nations weapons inspections.

With the assembly defying the UN, analysts say, the Iraqi leader can step forward and urge a more moderate approach.

Indeed, Mr. Hussein's son Uday, a powerful figure in Iraq's dictatorship, publicly urged the assembly to work with the UN. The assembly itself, in a separate vote, said the final decision rested with the country's leadership, meaning Hussein.

"What we're seeing is a very conscious and highly stage- managed piece of theater," says Toby Dodge, an Iraq specialist at Warwick University outside London.

Considered by Mr. Dodge and other experts to be a rubber stamp for Hussein's decisions, the 250-member Assembly does seem to be reflecting what many Iraqis think about the Security Council resolution, approved on Friday, which authorizes the inspections.

"Most of what [the National Assembly members] were saying was in accordance with what ordinary people in Iraq feel - that the resolution is very harsh, humiliating, impossible to fulfill on the Iraqi part," says Wamidh Nadhmi, a political-science professor at Baghdad University.

Deadline looming

Iraq has until Nov. 15 to accept the terms of Resolution 1441, which insists that Iraq allow UN inspectors to do whatever they deem necessary to uncover and terminate any efforts the country may be making to build nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, or the means to deliver them.

A rejection - or any future act of noncompliance should Iraq accept the resolution - seems certain to hasten a US-led military intervention to disarm the country. US forces are already gathering in the Persian Gulf, preparing a new command center in Qatar, and engaging in several training exercises in the region.

Besides allowing unfettered access, accepting the resolution also means admitting that Iraq has been in violation of numerous preceding resolutions calling for the country's disarmament.

Practically no one outside of Iraq's leadership would dispute such a statement; the 15 members of the Security Council, including Syria, a neighboring state with a burgeoning trade relationship with Iraq, approved the resolution unanimously. Nonetheless, the admission is something "the Iraqis would not like to accept," says Mr. Nadhmi.

Iraqi statecraft

Besides reflecting public sentiment, the Assembly is also engaging in a long-standing aspect of Iraqi statecraft - bombast and high rhetoric.

"No matter what the consequences are, this decision defends and protects the independence and integrity of our people," Assembly speaker Saadoun Hammadi told reporters after the vote.

Hussein himself often engages in appeals to the greatness of the Iraqi people, as do Assembly members.

"They know it plays very well on the street," says Dodge.

But he expects the flip side of Iraqi foreign policy-making - the technocratic pragmatism of Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz and others - to kick in soon and yield some sort of acceptance of the UN's will.

Uday Hussein seemed to manifest this sensibility in a memorandum to the Assembly that was distributed to reporters in Baghdad.

"We have to agree to the UN Security Council resolution with limits on certain points, but not, we say, conditions," the president's son wrote.

"There should not be approval of the resolution without an Arab umbrella or, if this is not possible, then under the so-called Arab League and there should be Arab experts or technicians and monitors [on the inspection teams] who are familiar with the nuclear, chemical, and biological side."

In search of assurances

Nadhmi says the leadership may now be engaged in discussions with Syria - and perhaps France and Russia - in search of assurances that the UN resolution does not simply pave the way to a US invasion.

As the Assembly debate made clear, many Iraqis are convinced the US will depose Hussein and occupy the country whether or not Iraq heeds UN Resolution 1441.

Although senior Bush administration officials told reporters Friday, "We gave no reassurances to Syria," Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa told the Arab League over the weekend that Secretary of State Colin Powell had offered such assurances in a letter.

If that is the case, it would help explain Syria's surprising approval of the UN resolution. As the only Arab state on the Council, many observers expected Syria at least to abstain from the vote on 1441, if not cast a dissenting vote.

But Imad Fawzi Shueibi, a political analyst in Damascus, says supporting the resolution was Syria's least bad alternative.

"In Syria we have recognized ... this tendency of the US to destroy the UN organization," he says, referring to the US's stated willingness to act unilaterally against Iraq.

To counter this trend, the analyst adds, the Syrians chose to support the resolution and stay in the game.

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