Iraqi losses suck Arab oil nations closer to Gulf war
Iran's successes against Iraq in its latest offensive in the Gulf war have Arab governments searching for some counterweight to prevent an outright Iranian victory over Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
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(The only exceptions to this are the governments of Syria and Libya, who support Iran.)
The Iranians have pushed the Iraqis back from the territory seized when the latter launched the war in September 1980 to positions close to their common border -- except at the southern end of the front. There, the Iraqis still hold Khorramshahr, the important port city on the Shatt al Arab estuary.
But the Iranians' latest thrust has brought them to the outskirts of the city -- within three miles of it, the Iranians say. The battle for Khorramshahr is apparently about to begin. It remains to be seen whether it will develop into a long siege or whether the Iraqis will be pushed back to the border there, too.
To most other Arabs, neither Iraqi strong man Saddam Hussein (a fellow Arab) nor the Iranian religious leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, is particularly attractive. There is no enthusiasm for either one's making himself the dominant figure in the Gulf. Consequently, most Arab governments lived relatively comfortably with the stalemate in the war between the two which prevailed during most of 1981.
But if forced to choose between the two, most of them -- above all the Gulf Arabs -- see Ayatollah Khomeini and his revolutionary fundamentalism as a greater threat than Saddam Hussein's revolutionary secularism. Hence their present worry about a total Iraqi defeat and the consequences for themselves of an Ayatollah Khomeini flushed with victory and set on exporting his disturbing ideology.
The embarrassing thing for them is that the most effective counterweight to the threat of total Iranian victory is Egypt, which most Arab governments have treated as a pariah since the late President Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel.
This has not prevented Egypt from selling spare parts and ammunition to Iraq to help make good losses in the war. Time magazine has reported that Egypt has sent 60 pilots to aid the Iraqi Air Force but Egyptian officials insist no Egyptian military personnel are with the Iraqi armed forces as a result of any Egyptian government initiative or order. (The armed forces of both countries are equipped mainly with Soviet weaponry.) King Hussein of Jordan has allowed his country to be used as a conduit for military supplies to Iraq and has sent Jordanian volunteers to fight at the Iraqis' side.
And Saudi Arabia, with some of the other oil-rich Arab states of the Gulf, have come forward with an estimated $16 to $25 million in financial aid. Yet all this has not saved the forces of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein from massive military setbacks in two Iranian offensives this year.
In the first of these offensives in March, Iraqi forces were driven back close to the border from over 700 square miles of Iranian territory they had been holding around Shush southwest of the Iranian city of Dezful.
In the second of the offensives, launched April 30, the Iranians have cleared nearly 400 square miles of Iraqi troops from a bulge they had been holding sothwest of Ahvaz between the Karun River and the border. This has brought them across the Karun to the approaches to Khorramshahr.