Two sides of the Gulf conflict: how it looks to Iraqis, Iranians; Iran interprets Iraq slowdown as weakness

A decline in the intensity of Iraqi attacks has been noted by Iran in recent days, together with statements from Baghdad that Iraq is ready to discuss peace with Tehran.

Iranian leaders, however, are taking this as a sign of weakness on the part of the Iraqis -- and not as a signal of peaceful intentions. It has encouraged them to continue making chauvinist noises and to talk in terms of a total Iraqi defeat.

But the Iranian Foreign Ministry was careful to point out Sept. 30 that the peace terms mentioned by its ambassador to Moscow, Muhammad Mokri, were entirely his own views and not the official terms of the Iranian government.

But the Iraqi peace terms, announced before the United Nations Security Council called on both countries to settle their differences by peaceful means, were equally haughty. They called for the Iranians to return to Arab control the three islands at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz -- the greater and lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa -- and renounce all claims to the Shatt al Arab waterway at the head of the Gulf.

While both sides were airing impossible terms, fighting in the beleaguered town of Khorramshahr and farther to the north in Kermanshah Province continued. Persian newspapers took about one week to begin publishing independent reports from the front, and described Khorramshahr as being a heavily barricaded city.

People had set up sand-bagged barricades in the streets similar to those set up in Tehran at the height of the revolution in February last year, it was reported.

One Iranian reporter quoted the Navy commander in Khorramshahr as saying that the Iraqi Navy had been virtually destroyed. Observers believe the naval battles, which had been going on in the Gulf for two days before the sudden Iraqi air attack on Iran Sept. 22, may have been responsible for touching off the war. Following reports of the sinking of both Iraqi and Iranian ships, reports in Theran said that the Iranian airports had been closed to civilian traffic as of early Sept. 22. This specifically included the Mehrabad airport in Tehran.

While the Iranians apparently took this measure as a precaution, the Iraqis saw it as a preparation for an attack on themselves. In a speech in Baghdad Sept. 29, President Saddam Hussein said the Iraqi air attack Sept. 22 had been made because Iran was preparing to attack.

Throughout the propaganda war, meanwhile, the Iranians have been monotonously harping that Iraqi war plans had been drawn up in collaboration with the United States, and that Iran actually was fighting the US by proxy.

Ridiculous though the claims may sound to many Iranians, it is the line the Iranian Muslim mullahs love to repeat to their followers, and to themselves.

Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports from Tehran say that several Iranian pilots who had earlier been arrested in connection with the attempted military coup of July 10 have been taken out of prison and allowed to fly on bombing missions in Iraqi territory.

The reports say the amnestied pilots have been acquitting themselves rather well. Stories circulated by the pilots' families say that they themselves had offered to die for their country fighting Iraq, rather than have their lives wasted before firing squads. Mr. Bani- Sadr had them released after approval from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The day after the fighting began the Ayatollah ordered that the trials of those arrested for participating in the plot should be suspended. The Islamic revolutionary courts complied immediately.

Baghdad has tried to counter this by inviting iranian pilots to flee to Iraq after bombing targets inside Iran. Targets specified by Bghdad have included the Revolutionary Guard headquarters and the presidential offices.

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