Iraq settles in for long haul of 'no war, no peace' with Iran
The sidewalks aroud the Babylon Cinema in downtown Baghdad are crowded these days with Iraqis waiting to see a film called "Al-Qadisiyah." It depicts the decisive battle between Arabs and Persians in AD 636 during the reign of Caliph Omar Bin Al-Khatab in which Arabs prevailed bacause, as an Iraqi film reviewer puts it, "of their faith in their just cause."
The film, which was begun a year before the war with Iran broke out, was financed by the Iraqi goverment and directed by Egyptian Salah Abu Saif with a pan-Arab cast of Moroccans, Tunisians, Algerians, Palestinians, and so on. The movie is an attampt by the Iraqi government to keep up morale as the war with Iran -- which propaganda posters around town refer to as "Saddam's Qadisiyah" -- winds into its 10th indecisive month.
Only 30 miles from the front, Baghdad appears to be a city far from war. The shops are stocked with goods brought in from Europe, other Arab countries, the United States, and the Far East. The airport is open to international traffic. although the run away is blacked out until just moments before a plane lands. Construction activity is running at a remarkable pace for a war-afflicted economy: Laborers from around the world work throughout the night under arc lights to build roads, hotels, ministry buildings, and dozens of other public projects.
The war may not dominate the lives of Iraqis but neither can they escape from it. Diplomats estimate that this country of 13 million has suffered more than 30,000 casualties (10,000 of them fatal) since Sept. 22, 1980, when Iraqi troops first rolled across the frontier into Iran.
This means that almost every one of the extended families in Iraq has felt the loss of a relative. Yet there is, according to Western diplomats here, no real indication of popular resistance to the war.
This is due in part to the heavy, police-state security that stifles even the mildest dissent. But observers insist most Iraqis would support the government on the war even without force.
A much more unpopular conflict -- the 1968-75 civil war in Kurdish northern Iraq -- caused 60,000 casualties. The Kurdish war was ended by a 1975 agreement in Algiers between Iraq's Saddam Hussein and the late Shah of Iran, who had been supporting the Kurds. It was in abrogating this agreement (under waterway with Iran) that Mr. Hussein went to war with Iran.
Mr. Hussein's decision to attack Iran, Iraqi officials argue, came after four months of artillery exchanges along the border and terrorist bombings within Iraq carried out by sympathizers with the Islamic revolution in Iran. Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had been urging Shiite Muslims in Iraq, who constitute 60 percent of the population, to overthrow the Baathis regime in Baghdad. Seen in this light, say Western diplomats, the war was preemptive.
Still, it was Iraq that crossed into Iranian territory.
analysis of the military positions indicates that in the first 10 days of fighting, Iraq achieved its apparent tactical objectives. It gained control of both sides of te Shatt al Arab and neutralized border areas from which the Iranians had been able to bombard Iraqi territory.
Since the end of September 1980, the war has been defensive for Iraq, with the biggest occurring in January, when the Iranian Army launched a counteroffensive in the Susangerd area of Iran.
Military analysts say the counterattack was handled well by Iraqi forces. After stopping it, the Iraqis might have pushed into central Khuzestan, but chose not to. This indicates that Iraq probably does not have territorial ambitions in Iran.
In May, the two sides clashed in the central region near the Iranian town of Masoud. Recently, artillery fire has intensified in the region of Abadan, and iraqi officers there say if ordered they would be able to take the Iranian city. These sorts of claims come cheaply here, however.
Mr. Hussein has said he is now supporting internal resistance groups in Iran, especially in Baluchistan and Khuzestan (which is marked as Arabistan on Iraqi maps). But observers here do not expect an outright Iraqi attempt to separate either of the areas from Iran militarily.
By a sort of gentlemen's agreement, neither side is now bombing capitals or oil pipelines, although Iraqi artillery fired on the provincial capital of Tabriz six weeks ago.
Settlement of the conflict seems far away. The current chaos in Iran seems to have convinced Mr. Hussein that negotiations are impossible for the moment. His offer of a cease-fire during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan was rebuffed. Peace efforts by the United Nations, the nonaligned movement, and the Islamic Conference apparently are stalled.
"The Iraqis know the war is going to last awhile," a diplomat says. "They have resigned themselves to the long haul of no war, no peace."
Away from the front, he says, the headlong rush for development will continue so that Mr. Hussein can show the world "that Iran will not cause Iraq to slip into the morass."