Beirut, Lebanon — Signs of opposition are mounting within President Saddam Hussein's Iraq, now locked in the fourth month of its costly war against Iran. This opposition poses no immediate threat to the Baathist leader's regime, which has brought a heavy-handed stability to the country for the past 12 years.
But the signs of dissidence appearing now are a reminder that the Hussein government holds a potentially uneasy balance between the riverine nation's different population groups.
And significantly, the conduct of the Gulf war reportedly is now the subject of one of the most serious disputes -- this time within the ruling Baath Party itself.
The most striking indication in recent days that an opposition movement is active within Iraq has been the cessation of oil supplies that normally flow through the 880-kilometer pipeline leading to Syria's Mediterranean ports. (The situation regarding supplies through pipelines crossing Turkey remains unclear, though both pipelines are fed from the same Kirkuk, Iraq, oilfields.)
The Iraqi government gave no explanation for halting the pumping through Syria, which had been resumed only at the beginning of December after repairs of previous war-related damage at the Kirkuk installations.
But Iraqi opposition sources say the latest interruption was caused by political sabotage in Kirkuk by local Kurdish groups.
These sources, who are leftist members of Iraq's ethnic Arab majority and who maintain close links with the Kurdish activists, say that much of the traditionally Kurdish north of Iraq now is virtually out of the control of central government security forces.
The war effort, they say, has claimed many of the Army units previously stationed in the north to police a peace imposed on the region in 1975. With the departure of the troops, guerrillas of several of the Kurdish nationalist groups have resumed their fight in the Kurdish mountains.
Signs of new stress in relations between the Kurds and the Hussein regime have also emerged from the capital, Baghdad, where several Kurdish personalities who were brought into the government in 1975 have recently been arrested, Iraqi and Arab officials report. Those arrested in late November included Obeidallah Barzani, son of the late Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani, and Dara Tewfic, it is said.
Obeidallah Barzani was reconfirmed in his post as a minister without portfolio in government changes earlier this year. A younger brother, Masood Barzani, meanwhile is leading the Kurdish Nationalist Party (KNP), one of the most militant Kurdish guerrilla groups.
The KNP has distributed photographs in Beirut of five Iraqi soldiers that it claims were taken prisoner in the Kurdish region in November.
Another Kurdish group, the Kurdish National Union led by Jalal Talabani, gets support from Syria and recently helped found a Damascus-based united front of Iraqi opposition groups.
Unlike the period leading up to the 1975 agreement by the Iraqis, Kurds these days can expect no backing from neighboring Iran where Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's regime is locked in a vicious miniwar against its own Kurdish minority.
Signs of renewed Kurdish activities in Iraq come as reports are starting to emerge of unease over the Gulf war within Iraq's ruling establishment.
Analysts with access to high levels of the Baath Party say that a discussion has started there over the conduct of the war.
"No one in the party disputes that the principal aim at the moment is the end of Khomeini's regime in Iran," they stressed. "But some people, and high up in the party, too, are questioning whether this war is the best way of attaining that end."
This report could not be confirmed by Iraqi opposition sources who would not have the same access to Iraqi ruling circles.
But it has been indirectly confirmed by Palestinian sources close to Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Arafat is making a strong attempt to broker a cease-fire in the damaging Gulf fighting. Sources say the Iraqi government appears eager to find some cease-fire formula, while not relinquishing the demands on Iran which were its original casus belli.
The problem, for the Iraqis as well as the United States in their dealings with Iran, remains the latter's total unresponsiveness to any of the demands of normal statemanship.
The Iraqi government thus seems doomed for now to continue its confrontation with Iran --internal political relations, with Ayatollah Khomeini's Arab co-religionists in the south as well as the ethnic Kurds in the north.