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Iran's unfortunate offensive

IF Iran's current military offensive turned out to be a serious threat to key areas of Iraq, or to neighboring Kuwait, then the Iran-Iraq war, well into its sixth year, would have taken a serious turn. Once again the specter would be invoked that Islamic fundamentalism might spread from Iran, perhaps via Iranian troops, to smaller and militarily weaker nations of the Gulf. The stalemate of the last several years, between two nations tired by the fighting, has been in the interests of the nations of the Gulf and Middle East, and also the West. The world will have to wait and see which of the current claims proves to be accurate. But from the comparative military picture of the two countries, it seems unlikely that either one could now conquer the other unless some outside power substantially changed the balance of power, as by major increases in arms export to one of the combatants. Iran no longer appears able to mount an attack massive enough to overwhelm Iraq.

At first glance, therefore, the current Iranian offensive -- which Iraq claims to have blunted substantially -- appears unlikely to change the course of the war.

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Iran's offensive appears to be as much a political as a military action. Iran was in a difficult domestic position -- with rising public indignation over its faltering economy -- serious enough to cause it to act on the military front. Tehran's hopes of winning an economic war of attrition over its smaller adversary had been dashed, first by its general economic decline and then by the sharp worldwide fall in the price of oil, Iran's main export. Increasing numbers of Iranians had begun to grow restless as the war claimed more human as well as economic casualties.

It is no coincidence, then, that the latest Iranian offensive coincides with the seventh anniversary of the accession to power of the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Irrespective of the motive of the attack, the increased loss of human life, especially among the young, is appalling. In recent years boys as young as 12 have been recruited into the Iranian forces, often to be placed in sacrificial positions on the battlefield.

Not only in this contest but throughout the world, there is too much of a casualness about human life. In any conflict, whether war or domestic unrest, each casualty is not a statistic but a person.

Iran and Iraq should recognize that nearly six years of war without resolution is enough. It is time to end the terrible offensives and let the war wind down.

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