The Iraqi parliament on Tuesday unanimously recommended that Saddam Hussein defy the United Nations' threats of "serious consequences" and reject the resolution demanding the readmission of weapons inspectors.
However, Saddam's elder son, Odai Saddam Hussein, earlier circulated a letter urging that Baghdad accept the U.N. resolution, with the provision that some of the inspectors be from Arab countries.
The apparent stage-management of the contradictory messages may be setting the scene for Saddam to accept the ultimatum by Friday's deadline as a show of graciousness, despite seeming opposition from his own people.
In Washington, the White House dismissed the Baghdad parliament's rejection of the U.N. resolution as "pure political theater."
"I don't think there's anybody who believes the Iraqi parliament has a serious voice in what does or doesn't happen in Iraq," National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said. "There is only one voice that matters in this despotic regime and that is from Saddam Hussein."
Iraq's erstwhile friends on the U.N. Security Council were only slightly less blunt.
Russia called on Baghdad "to exercise self-control and pragmatism" by accepting the U.N. resolution, which Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said "offers the possibility of avoiding the development of a situation of force around Iraq," according to the Interfax news agency.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Tuesday on France-Inter radio that force would be used against Saddam if he did not cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors. France had earlier opposed making the recourse to force automatic.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Tuesday that Iraq has ordered large amounts of atropine, a drug that can be used to counter the effects of nerve gas. The Times, quoting senior Bush administration officials, said the orders were placed mainly with suppliers in Turkey and that the United States is pressing Turkey to stop the sales.
"If the Iraqis were going to use nerve agents, they would want to take steps to protect their own soldiers, if not their population," an official told the Times.
At the end of a session that began Monday, the Baghdad legislature held three votes on its own resolution, which accepted the recommendation of its foreign-relations committee to reject the U.N. measure.
Parliament speaker Saadoun Hammadi asked deputies to vote on the first clause of the Iraqi resolution by a show of hands and announced it had been accepted unanimously. It was not clear how many of the 250 members were present.
Hammadi then called for a vote on the second clause referring the matter to Saddam, and again announced unanimous approval. A third vote was held for the entire proposal, and it also was approved unanimously.
The parliamentary resolution also said the "political leadership" should "adopt what it considers appropriate to defend the Iraqi people and Iraq's independence and dignity and authorizes President Saddam Hussein to adopt what he sees as appropriate expressing our full support for his wise leadership."
Hammadi described the vote as "a message to the United States that the people of Iraq are united behind their leadership, and it also shows that the people of Iraq know that in the U.N. resolution ... there are major allegations which are baseless."
"This decision by the Iraqi National Assembly is the right and patriotic stance, which expresses the Iraqi people's opinion," he told reporters.
Tuesday's session of parliament was not broadcast live on Iraqi television, leaving Iraqis relying on international radio to follow the proceedings.
The opening and the vote were carried live by Al-Jazeera, the Qatari-based Arabic satellite channel. Iraqis cannot receive Al-Jazeera as the government bans satellite dishes.
Odai's letter, which was also distributed to reporters in Baghdad by the Information Ministry, was given to the deputies as they reconvened Tuesday.
"We have to agree to the U.N. Security Council resolution with limits on certain points, but not, we say, conditions," the president's son said.
"There should be Arab experts or technicians and monitors [on the inspection teams] who are familiar with the nuclear, chemical and biological side," he said.
That clause echoed a demand by Arab League foreign ministers, who after meeting in Cairo over the weekend otherwise urged that Baghdad accept the U.N. resolution.
The office of U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix, who is in charge of chemical and biological inspections, said it has trained inspectors from 49 countries, including six Jordanians, one Moroccan and five Turks.
"We don't get too many applications from Arabic countries and we would welcome more applications from people who have the right expertise," one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which would conduct the inspections of Iraqi nuclear facilities, is an Egyptian, but it was not known how many other Arabs, if any, would be on the teams going into Iraq.
Odai said acceptance would not necessarily ward off war, and spoke of a call to have Arab countries cut oil supplies to countries that attack Iraq.
"We have to know our enemy and that the U.N. resolution does not mean stopping him from committing military action," he said.
"We also have to take precautions and measures and here we have to ask the Arab countries to immediately cut oil supplies to those countries that launch a military strike or aggression on Iraq and to any country that allows foreign war planes to use their airports or offer logistic support for them for refueling," his letter said.
Arab oil producers have ignored similar calls from Iraq in the past, saying stopping sales was not in their interest.
"Arab countries should not allow the passage of any weapon meant to be used against Iraq through their waterways or air corridors," he added. "These Arab countries which extend facilities and allow for military buildup should be excluded from any Arab aid or help and prevented from getting fuel."
While Iraq's Arab neighbors publicly oppose any military strike on Iraq, they distrust Saddam and are likely to try to protect their relationship with Washington by quietly cooperating in any war on Baghdad.
The 39-year-old Odai, who won 99.99 percent of the vote in his constituency in the last parliamentary elections, has a high profile, running an influential newspaper and a television station.
Flamboyant and said to have a violent temper, he was considered the main candidate to succeed his father as leader of Iraq until he was badly injured in a 1996 assassination attempt.
His younger and lower-key brother, Qusai, 36, is now believed to hold a stronger position and has several important posts, including head of the Republican Guards, the country's best-trained and equipped troops.
Iraq has until Friday to accept or reject the resolution the U.N. Security Council approved unanimously a week earlier. If it does not, or falters afterward in following the tough provisions of the resolution, the United States and Britain have made clear they will attack Iraq.
The resolution demands inspectors have unrestricted access to any suspected weapons site and the right to interview Iraqi scientists outside the country and without Iraqi officials present — issues that could become points of dispute.
Iraq has insisted on respect for its sovereignty, an argument it used in the past to restrict access to Saddam's extensive palace complexes.
In Washington, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice rejected the legitimacy of the parliamentary debate on the resolution.
"One has to be a bit skeptical of the independence of the Iraqi parliament from Saddam Hussein," she said Monday. "I don't think anyone believes this is anything but an absolute dictatorship and this decision is up to Saddam Hussein."
She also said Iraq has no right to accept or reject the resolution.
"They are obligated to accept, but the U.N. thought it best to ask for return-receipt requested," Rice said.
Rice earlier warned Iraq to bow to the resolution without wasting "the world's time with another game of cat-and-mouse."
Iraq maintains it no longer has any weapons of mass destruction, and lawmaker Ismail Nasif Jassim called the 30-day period for Iraq to provide documents on its weapons programs "illogical and a way to provoke Iraq."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.