With the Iraq-Iran war in its eightth week, Iraqi citizens are realizing that no speedy end is in sight. The implications of this, on future relations with Iran, on Iraq's own ambitious development program, and on individual hopes and fears, are coming up for discussion.
The nationalist euphoria that gripped Iraq in the early days of the war has been replaced by a more sober, but still generally optimistic, view of the situation.
One ranking government official admits the fighting might not stop even when Iraqi forces can move into the cities in southwestern Iran they are now besieging.
"Who will give the cease-fire order on the Iranian side?" he asked. "There is no one in command there. And then, if the Iranians do agree to a cease-fire, they must know that all their internal political problems will return with a vengeance."
This official saw the most potent focus of discontent in the event of a cease-fire as being within the Iranian Army. "That's when the Iranian military will really demand a reckoning of the regime's misdeeds," he said. "And remember, some of the Shah's former generals still have loyal troops in Oman."
In the traditional markets and modern offices of Iraq's cities, as well as in the rich farming lands opened up by the Baath Party regime's agricultural reforms, many Iraqis wonder at the duration of the fighting, without any clear indication of when it will end.
Until recently, government media had told them that their government had no new territorial claims against Iran, but was merely seeking Iranian recognition of longstanding Iraqi territorial claims.
But in an enigmatic reference, President Saddam Hussein told Iraqi parliamentarians recently that "war, too, has its own demands."
This seemed in line with other indicatioins that, as the price of a settlement, the Iraqis might nowadays lay permanent claim to some parts of the oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzestan (called Arabistan by the Iraqis), which their forces now partially occupy.
(At a press conference in Baghdad Nov. 10 President Saddam denied Iraq demands any territory from Iran other than that previously claimed as belonging to Iraq. But he said the demands of Arabistanis, Kurds, and other Iranian minorities for self-rule were a defferent issue. See story on Page 8 for details.)
In the same speech, President Saddam also referred to "the Iranians of Kurdistan, the Iranians of Baluchistan, the Iranians of Azerbaijan . . . and the Arabs of Arabistan."
He thus confirmed that there is now a distinction in Iraqi eyes between Iran's ethnic Arabs, who populate Khuzestan, and other Iranian minorities. Nearer the beginning of the current war, he was careful to class all Iranian ethnic groups equally.
The "liberation" of Khuzestan from Iran is a demand that receives widespread support among the Iraqi population. But there are some fears as to where pursuing this demand right now might lead.
"If we keep Arabistan, how can the Iranians ever forgive us ?" wondered one worried middle-class resident of Baghdad. He referred to the continuing resentment between France and Germany, even 35 years after their World War II peace settlement.
"And Arabistan is not just another disputed border areas," he pointed out. "It is the source of oil wealth for all Iran.
"How, too," this middle-class Iraqi wondered, "can we criticize Israel for annexing territory by force, if we do exactly the same?"
For now, such questions seem limited to a small proportion of Iraqi nationals whose views probably count little with the Baath Party leaders. (However, these Baath leaders must take into account the concerns of the booming Iraqi technocratic class over the effects of the fighting on the national development program.)
For the majority of other Iraqis, the war probably still is a continuous, jolly military round of victory and advance as portrayed on the national television.
Markets are well stocked, with vast refrigerated trucks unloading crates of French fruit direct into little roadside stores. At the lush new Mansour central market in a well-heeled residential suburb or Baghdad, check-out queues stretch long, with families stocking up on the usually rare dry goods that now overflow the supermarket shelves.
Casualty figures are starting to slip from abstract statistics to the level of "cousins of one's friends." But here, too, the Army's policy of extreme caution in its advance seems to have succeeded in keeping casualties low enough not to have any great effect on national morale.
The government thus feels few internal constraints in its pursuit of the war effort.