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Gulf war drags on in a stalemate -- despite recent Iranian offensives

By Middle East correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / November 19, 1982



''Warriors of the path of truth and justice, with the power of faith in Islam , are delivering repeated and fatal blows to the Saddamist warmongers,'' Iran's 1,117th war communique since September 1980 trumpets.

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''With the glowing combat spirit the lofty Iraqis and their valiant army possess, our forces pursue their just fighting against the forces of charlatan Khomeini,'' Iraq's 899th communique rejoins.

This much is certain about the Gulf war: The Iranian military is on the offensive inside Iraq. But like the centuries-old Persian-Arab, Shiite-Sunni rivalries on which it is based, the 26-month-old conflict seems destined to drag on inconclusively.

Middle East analysts are divided on whether Iraq is in real danger. It is true that since last summer the Iraqis have been on the defensive. And they are having to rely more and more on recruited manpower and foreign financing from elsewhere in the Arab world.

The Iranian regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, meanwhile, by building up its war chest through increased oil sales, is trying to replenish its military stockpile. But since Iran's counterinvasion of Iraq last summer, the military commanders of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein seem to have contained their opponents.

The key Iraqi cities of Baghdad and Basra are still far from Iranian guns. Even with its mid-November offensive, Iran had penetrated only three to six miles inside the Iraqi border. Baghdad is 70 miles from the front; Basra, which many strategists believe to be Iran's real aim, is 20 miles. Even though Iraq's Hussein announced last June that his forces were relinquishing captured territory, the Iraqis still hold small parcels of Iran.

Each time there is an upsurge in fighting, Middle East watchers try to determine whether this is the move that breaks the stalemate. They wonder whether it will jeopardize Hussein's hold on Iraq, draw other Arab states into a bigger war, cause the Shiite Muslims of the Arab world to rebel against their Sunni rulers, or bring in the superpowers.

These are important ramifications to monitor - but at this point a kind of mean status quo exists: Arab and Persian soldiers continue to perish, immense sums of money are being fed into the war machines, and the potential for a genuine crisis in the oil-rich Gulf remains undiminished.

Numerous efforts to negotiate a cease-fire have failed. The latest failure was that of the Islamic Conference Organization in October. A new effort was reported Nov. 17. The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was preparing to support an Algerian effort to bring about peace.

But the signals coming from Saudi Arabia are puzzling. As it calls for a negotiated peace, the Saudi regime also calls Iran's terms for ending the war ''unrealistic and impossible.'' State-controlled Riyadh Radio Nov. 10 called Iran a tool of ''the enemies of Arabism and Islam'' and said there was no way to foil Iranian aims ''except by supporting Iraq financially and militarily.''