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New Iraqi war strategy brings results

Iraq appears to have adopted a military strategy of launching limited, well-planned operations to push Iranian forces out of occupied territory and back into Iran. The strategy is in line with an increased assertiveness by Baghdad in the 7-year Iran-Iraq war. And it is strengthening Iraq's diplomatic and military positions, while creating significant problems for Iranian leaders, according to diplomatic analysts in the region.

Iraqi troops, including units of Iraq's elite Presidential Guard and the Third Army Corps, recaptured key sections of the marshy southern war front in a 10-hour battle east of Basra, Iraq's second largest city, on Wednesday.

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The Iraqi victory was both tactical and symbolic. It is expected to make it more difficult for Iran to carry out routine shelling attacks on Basra. And it is seen as another psychological blow to an Iranian leadership deeply divided by factional infighting and power struggles in the wake of recent elections to the Iranian Parliament.

``There is no central power [in Iran] to decide what to do,'' a Gulf-based diplomat says.`` Iran is in a shambles.''

``It must increase the feeling among the Iranians that time is not on their side,'' another diplomat says.

Analysts say it is unclear how Iran will react to this latest setback. But they agree that the Iranian leadership is now under pressure to try to compensate somehow.

``I think they are looking for the means to fight back, but the revolutionary fervor is at a very low level,'' a diplomat says. ``Iran needs to achieve something very big to make the Iranian people believe that the revolution is still going.''

Analysts stress that the Iraqis were apparently able to retake in a single day's fighting much of the land Iran captured at great cost during weeks of combat in January and February 1987.

The Iraqi tactics in this counterattack were similar to those used in the successful surprise attack April 17 against Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the occupied Faw Peninsula. And they are in stark contrast to what had become an Iraqi tradition of simply manning well-fortified positions and waiting for an Iranian offensive.

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The Iraqi successes on the battlefield have strengthened Baghdad's negotiating position in future peace talks by pushing Iranian forces back and eliminating potential bargaining chips, analysts say. At the same time the counterattacks, launched within Iraqi territory, emphasize Iraq's often-stated position that it is only fighting a defensive war and that Baghdad is prepared to enter peace talks with Iran.

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