Iraq is winning battles, but wonders how to win peace

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Behind the current euphoria in Baghdad over battlefront victories lurks a dilemma for Iraq: How to translate those victories into real peace? ``Now is the turning point,'' says a Western military analyst here who follows the war closely. ``They ought to be looking toward a diplomatic solution.''

``[Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein has got to play this cool,'' he adds. ``He must change the equation around so the Iranians don't want to bring the war back to Baghdad.''

According to another Western analyst in Baghdad, ``If the Iranians refuse to accept peace then the situation is unresolved and that is as bad as war for this country.''

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He adds, ``What the Iraqis have to force is a declared end to the war.''

A new variable was introduced to the calculation Sunday, when the United States shot down an Iranian commercial airliner that it mistook for a jetfighter (Page 36). The incident is being viewed as having the potential to bolster Iran's fighting morale and unify the country's leadership.

At the moment, Iraqi leaders are basking in the warm glow of recent successes on the war front. The mood in Baghdad is upbeat and relaxed.

But when questioned on longer-term peace prospects, Iraqi officials say peace won't come until Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini dies and a post-Khomeini power struggle is over, or when the Iranian people launch a counter-revolution.

In both instances it is hoped that a government might emerge that would be willing to sign a peace treaty with Iraq.

Iraq appears to have ruled out pursuing Iranian forces into their own territory in an attempt to crush the regular Army and Revolutionary Guards totally.

An official comment to that effect was made to explain, in part, why Iraqi forces withdrew after pushing 30 kilometers (18 miles) into Iran during their June 25 assault that recaptured Majnoon.

The issue of whether Iraqi forces might engage Iranian troops inside Iran has been a source of debate between military commanders and President Hussein.

While the Iraqi military is described as anxious to exploit Iranian weaknesses and to maximize the Iraqi position from a military point of view, Hussein is worried that a large-scale military thrust into Iran might backfire on him by uniting bickering Iranian political factions the way Iraq's 1980 invasion of Iran did.

``In no way will [Hussein] send his Army into Iran,'' says a Western diplomat, a long-time analyst of the war. ``He had his fingers burned severely before.''

``We have no such intention [of invading Iran],'' a senior Iraqi official says.

Another official stresses, ``We will go inside Iran when we need to for peace.'' He added, ``The Iranians must understand that. When we do that, we do it for peace.''

There is also concern that world opinion would shift against Iraq should Iraqi forces go on the offensive.

One option the Iraqis are pursuing is the building up of the dissident Iranian Mujahideen-e Khalq (People's Mujahideen) organization's National Liberation Army (NLA).

The NLA operates from five bases along the central Iran-Iraq war front with an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 fighters. Some Western analysts here believe the Iraqis may be encouraging them to launch attacks behind Iranian lines in areas Iraq wishes to avoid.

The NLA launched several highly publicized hit-and-run raids inside Iran and last month was reported to have captured the Iranian border town of Mehran. But the Western analysts differ in their assessments of the group's effectiveness as a fighting force.

In the meantime, Iraq is expected to continue to launch counter attacks against Iranian forces occupying Iraqi territory. Baghdad is expected to hit next in northern Kurdish-populated areas.

Iraqi leaders are hoping that Iranian defeats will help heighten the disarray in Iranian military and political circles. Some say they hope the defeats will help trigger a revolt by Iranians demanding an end to the war.

``We believe that by continuing to defeat the Iranian Army it will help motivate the Iranian people to force their government to accept peace and negotiations with Iraq,'' says Major Sadoun Alawi of Iraq's Sixth Corps on the southern war front.

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