Iraqi gains in Iran could turn into 'debacle,' says analyst
Washington — As Iraq's armed forces lunged deeper into Iran Sept. 24, a leading defense analyst in the united States said he saw, "three possible objectives' for the Iraqis, including the toppling of the revolutionary regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The first objective, said Edward Luttwak of Georgetown University in Washington, "is to establish an Iraqi primacy on the Shatt Al-Arab. The second would be to detach the province of Khuzistan -- that would be, of course, a big one. And third, even bigger, would be to knock off [overthrow] Khomeini."
Professor Luttwak believes that Iraqi strong man Saddam Hussein will strive for the first objective and then "carry the war into objective No. 2."
At this point, he adds, Iraqi forces "will probably drift into objective No. 3, and it's going to end up with a big debacle."
According to the Georgetown professor, who is a US Defense Department consultant and a senior fellow at Georgetown's Center for Strategic and International Studies, "the most characteristic thing about Arab warfare in the last 10 years is the changing of objectives halfway through."
But he sees no victory for Baghdad. "If the Iraqis had stopped when they got to the Shatt Al-Arab, they probably could have got away with it. Now they can't , and in the end they're bound to lose," he declares.
(Iraqi forces moved deeper into Iran Sept. 24, claiming the capture of the border city of Qasr-e Shirin as Iranian troops fled, leaving equipment behind. Qasr-e Shirin, the main trading center of western Iran, is the first town on the highway to Tehran.
(An Iranian report said four Americans were captured after its forces routed Iraqi troops near Shalamshah, Iran. Earlier reports said four Americans were feared killed by Iranian airplanes that bombed that Iraqi port of Basra.
(Tehran Radio said Iran's Abdadan refinery, one of the world's largest, was in flames after Iraqi air and artillery attacks.
(Iraqi fighter planes also struck Dezful, Tabriz, and Kermanshah, Iran said, adding that a number of civilians were killed or injured. (While Iraq claimed Iranian forces were "fleeing, abandoning tanks," Iran said its troops were taking the offensive, giving up "their defensive posture and replying to aggression with aggression."
(Iraq calimed 21 Iranian solders were killed and 117 captured.) There is a general feeling among US defense experts that Iran wil prove incapable of stemming the Iraqi onslaught.Professor Luttwak points out that there have been "massive" desertions in Iranian military units since the shah was deposed. Sixty percent of the Army is said to have slipped away, says Luttwak, and "the whole top echelon of the officer corps plus a good many people in the middle" have been eliminated by the ayatollah's purges.
He adds that the Iranian forces, lavishly equipped with US weapons by the shah, have also sufferd from the withdrawal of the "huge American maintenance and support machinery with its thousands and thousands of technicians."
Trying to counter the Iraqi invasion, he says, are "fragments" of the former iranian armed forces -- "a battalion there, a helicopter there, a fighter there."
But he emphasizes that, while the Iranians cannot contain the Iraqis on the ground, they are able to mount damaging air strikes into Iraq.
Professor Luttwak takes issue with reports that Iran's armed forces are suffering a spare-parts shortage. He believes that, in fact, they are laboring under a shortage of "people who are able to refit, maintain, and overhaul equipment. they may or may not have a spare-parts shortage, but I don't really think that's important because there's nobody in the depot who knows how to do the job."
He thinks that Iraq must have "fairly large stocks" of spare parts as "this was a planned war," and notes that Tareq Aziz, a close adviser to Iraqi President Hussein, flew to Moscow recently on what may have been a mission to obtain more.
But the Georgetown defense analyst emphasizes that Iraq has its own military problems, even though it possesses a powerful, Soviet-built military machine. "When Saddam Hussein came to power there were very extensive purges," he observes, adding that the Iraqi Army is "far inferior to the Syrian Army" and was "pathetic" in the 1973 Arab-israeli war in which one of the two armored divisions it sent to the Golan front was cut to ribbons.