The forgotten war at the head of the Gulf is being fought out as much in word as in bullet. The battlefront itself has been reduced to the level of skirmishing -- although troops on either side still are suffering losses every day. But the battles are not for major strategic towns but for hills and ridges overlooking the towns.
"At this rate it could go on for another two years," said one observer gloomily. "Both sides have taken up defensive positions, and neither side has the strength to dislodge the other in a major attack."
As a result, Iran's strategy now is to mix small-scale attacks on Iragi positions with large-scale "victory" claims.
The tactic has been to attack a hilltop position at one point, then wait a few days before trying to retake a ridge at a point 100 miles or more away along the front. The Iranians have then been able to claim a series of minor victories that have served mainly as morale boosters for their troops.
Deputy Chief of staff. Brig. Gen. Vallollah Fallahi claimed a few days ago that in the past 12 to 14 weeks since these small-scale attacks began. Iran has been able to retake from the iraqis some 40 percent of the territories captured in the initial stages of the war last year.
But a foreign military analyst who did not wish to be named has been[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] the fighting and was skeptical. a lot of what the Iranians are saying is for local comsumption," he said. "You've got to remember that the first casualty of any war is not a human being. not a tank, not an aircraft, not a ship. The first casualty is always the truth."
Well then, what is the purposes of these Iranian claims of a small victory here and another there?
"They are clearly preparing their own public for a long war," the analyst, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "is a trap; he wants to end the war but he can't."
As seen from here, the Iranians are content to allow the fighting to linger, comvinced Hussein can't advance any further into Iran. They see their one faint hope of getting the Iraqis out of their country is by using the strategy of sapping the strength and morale of the Iraqi troops, "keeping them pinned down in their bunkers," and making irritating small-scale attacks at different times and at different points along the front.
The foreign analyst knocks large holes in most of the Iranian claims of small-scale victories over the past few weeks.
For example, the Iranians claimed last week to have retaken the Allaho Akbar ridgeboat 30 miles to the northwest of Ahbaz. The ridge overlooks the a road which has been in Iraqi hands for several months.
But the military analyst was skeptical, "The Iraquis never did have [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] ." It is a very low [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] anyway. The Iraqis [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] . "What has probally happened is that the Iranians have moved up a little farther on their side of the ridge." The Iraquis were on one slope and the Iranians were on the other slope.
There was similar doubt about the claims of minor victories near Abadan. About two weeks ago the Iranians beat hard on their propaganda drums to announce that they had taken a hill called Tapeh Madan about three miles southeast of Abadan. They also said they had retaken an open stretch called Tir Square just outside the town and had dislodged the Iraqis from the Abadan-Mahshahr Road.
"Well," said the analyst, "they later quietly admitted that both Tir Square and the Abadan-Mahshahr road were still in Iraqi hands." But the Iranian admission came in an almost inaudible whisper -- without aid of propaganda drums.