Iran attack on Iraq expected -- this time with regular soldiers
Iraq is bracing itself for yet another Iranian offensive in the 30-month-old Gulf war. Military analysts expect the attack to begin before the end of this month.
But this time Iran may choose to allow its regular armed forces to shoulder the brunt of the battle rather than relying, as it did in past months, on the human waves of revolutionary guards and young volunteers advancing in suicidal fashion toward the Iraqi lines.
Judging by the composition and buildup of past Iranian offensives, military analysts here say that Iran is again planning a series of attacks on Iraq. The current buildup, however, appears to involve far more regular troops, who are expected to attempt a border crossing near the Iraqi town of Al Amara.
Iran's tactics of employing human waves seems, at least initially, to have failed. Last month's offensive resulted in no more than the occupation of a strip of no man's land between the two countries and the seizure of several minor Iraqi border posts.
Analysts here in Kuwait say, however, that ''over time [Ayatollah] Khomeini can wear Iraq down.'' Pointing to the fact that Iran's population is almost three times the size of that of Iraq, they say the question is ''how long Ayatollah Khomeini intends to continue his onslaught.''
Sources close to Kuwait's minister of defense, Sheikh Salem Sabah, quote him as recently predicting that the Gulf war will last at least another year and a half.
Some analysts say that Iraq's financial difficulties will ultimately affect its ability to stave off continuous Iranian attacks. Two and a half years of huge military outlays have forced Iraq deep into debt with monthly expenditures of more than $1.5 billion.
The financial crunch began last October, causing long delays in Iraqi payments of bills to civilian contractors and military suppliers. Iraq, as a result, is now increasingly seeking import credits and rescheduling of debts from its trading partners and suppliers.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein complained in public earlier this year that Arab financial support was drying up. His foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, said that the Gulf states had provided ''less than $20 billion'' and had stopped payments 18 months ago.
But both Egyptian and Gulf officials estimate that Iraq has received $52 billion from its Arab backers since the beginning of the Gulf war. Half of this, they say, was paid in the form of military and civilian goods and half of it in cash.
Kuwaiti officials confirm that the Gulf states, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, have ceased payments to Iraq. Saudi Arabia, however, according to these officials, continues to finance the Iraqi war effort to the tune of $1 billion a month.
Saudi Arabia is further reported to be selling oil to Iraqi customers, which Iraq no longer can supply because Syria has stopped the flow of oil through the pipeline from Iraq across Syria to the Mediterranean Sea. The revenues of the Saudi oil sales go to Iraq.
Kuwait defends its decision to halt payments to Iraq by pointing to its financial problems due to the glutted oil market.
''Kuwait would have to pay loans to Iraq out of its investment income or possibly even out of its reserves, and Kuwait clearly does not want to do this, '' said one source.
Analysts here believe that Kuwait and other Gulf states realize that they will have to foot the bill for the reconstruction of Iraq and Iran once hostilities have ended. With declining oil revenues, Kuwait and the Gulf states appear to be saving their money in order to be able to finance arrangements demanded by Iran as a condition for ending the war.
Kuwait is further reported to have responded to Iraqi requests for financial aid in the past year by demanding a settlement of the outstanding border dispute between their two countries. ''We constantly raise the issue,'' said one well informed source, ''but they refuse to discuss it.''
A new bridge, spanning the water between Kuwait's uninhabitable Bubiyan Island and the now blossoming desert is the latest assertion of Kuwait's sovereignty. The $52 million ultramodern structure connects, in the words of one diplomat, ''nothing with nothing.''
Iraq wants to lease the island for the establishment of a military base. Kuwait, according to senior government officials, has rejected the request, arguing that Iran's Air Force could easily wipe out any military installations placed on Bubiyan Island.
Knowledgeable observers here say that, as a result of Kuwait's stand, relations between Kuwait and Iraq have become ''increasingly strained.'' Kuwait is nevertheless believed to have stepped up its military support of Iraq.