As the Iraq-Iran war moved into its fourth day Sept. 25, apparently confident Iraqi forces kept up their drive against the Iranian military, moving further and further into Iranian territory.
Besides dust and debris, the air was filled with conflicting claims of victories, defeats, and airstrikes. But two points stood out clearly:
* The fighting had been confined, so far at least, to the two direct combatants. Oil continued to flow Sept. 25 from the terminals of all the other Gulf producers. The great tankers still were plowing low-laden through the Strait of Hormuz, keeping open the energy lifeline to the world's oil-thirsty importers.
* The first signs were appearing of concerted efforts to halt the conflict -- even though these were clearly facing considerable obstacles.
Special correspondent Louis Wiznitzer reported from the United Nations that, at time of writing, Western nations were pushing hard for a meeting of the 15 -member Security Council. According to UN diplomats, the Western governments wanted quick action either to get a UN call for a ceasefire or, if that failed, to have a stronger case for taking action on their own in the wake of such a failure.
Efforts by US Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, however, to persuade the Russians to go along with a Security Council ceasefire call appeared to receive an initial rebuff. At a meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko Sept. 25 at the Soviet Mission to the United Nations, Mr. Muskie apparently was unable to persuade the Soviets to become involved even to that extent.
In addition, a senior Iraqi diplomat, Ismat Kittani, in conversations with UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim is understood to have indicated a preference for a few days delay in convening a council meeting -- presumably to allow Iraq to consolidate its gains on the ground.
Meanwhile Iraq has begun to clarify its objectives in a war in which it is clearly the most forceful party. Its envoys, dispatched to New York and to Paris, and its spokesmen in Baghdad have started to lay down a number of conditions for an end to the fighting.
Special correspondent Helena Cobban reports from Baghdad:
Iraqi Defense Minister Adnan Khairallah has traced the origins of the current war to what he calls Iran's noncompliance with the 1975 Algiers pact between the two countries. That was the pact which Iraqi President Saddam Hussein abrogated last week, and then demanded full control over the strategic Shatt al Arab waterway dividing the two countries which the Algiers agreement had divided between them.
Full-scale hostilities quickly ensued between the two armies already massed along the Iraqi-Iranian border. General Khairallah accused the Iranian navy of then taking action against Iraqi-protected merchant shipping in the Shatt al Arab.
"So at 1200 hours on Sept. 22 we decided we would strike against Iran's vital interests until . . . the Iranian regime restores the international borders and respects the rights of all Arabs of the area," the minister told a Sept. 24 press conference, giving a clear definition of how Iraq's Baath Party rulers see their current war aims.
In this definition there is some small ambiguity over the question of whether Iraq wants to gain control of the Arab-populated part of southwestern Iran that supplies most of the country's oil.
General Khairallah stated clearly that "we are not in need of the oil of Arabestan -- what we have is enough." But he added, "The Iranians will have to act wisely in this area."
[Iraqi Deputy Premier Tareq Aziz amplified Iraq's conditions at a news conference in Paris Sept. 25. He listed them, according to Reuter, as: recognition of Iraq's legitimate rights and respect for its sovereignty over all its territories and waters; agreement on good neighborly relations with Iraq and other countries in the area; non-interference in the affairs of other countries and cessation of all aggressive activities.]
[He claimed the Shatt al Arab as Iraqi territory but not the three islands just north of the Strait of Hormuz, the two Tunbs and Abu Musa. He said it was up to the people of Iran's oil-rich province of Khuzestan (who are largely ethnic Arabs) to decide where they belonged.]
There was some indication at the stocky and confident general's news conference of the truth of current speculation that Iraq might be making a bid for leadership of the Arab world with its current actions.
"We don't accept any Arab to mediate between us and a non-Arab," General Khairallah said. He added that Iraq expected other Arabs to back its case in the current dispute as a matter of course.
Special correspondent Bill Baker reports on the Iranian viewpoint:
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini apparently continues to believe that he toppled the Shah by a miracle and that he can overthrow the Iraqi regime by the same means. He has called once again on the Iraqi people to rise up against President Saddam Hussein and has asked the Iraqi Army to "join the Iranian forces."
Iran radio has been broadcasting communiques issued by the combined military headquarters saying that several Iraqi generals had revolted against President Hussein. Another "miracle" reported by the headquarters was that 50 Iraqi tanks had become stuck in muddy terrain on the border between the two countries, forcing the tank crews to abandon them and flee.
This, said the communique, was remarkably similar to the disaster the US rescue mission faced in the Khaviv desert in April, when it claimed nature intervened to abort the mission.
Meanwhile, Iranians deep in the interior of the country where no serious fighting has taken place so far have indicated that they are not swallowing the official propaganda. Long queues of automobiles have been forming at gas stations after news of damage to the Abadan refinery.
This was despite official assurances that the refinery damage was only slight and that the country has plenty of refined fuel reserves to see it through the winter. In apparent desperation, the government has had to order a two-day ban on the sale of all kinds of fuel -- including gasoline, kerosene, and diesel oil.
Other long queues can be seen at food stores, where people have been buying up eveverything that would keep -- including not only meat and vegetables but also bread.
Another byproduct of the war between Iran and Iraq is the dampening effect it has had on prospects for release of the 52 American hostages.
Just before the fighting began, it seemed as if the US captives in Iran were, for the first time in 10 months, beginning to move on the way toward freedom.
On Sept. 22, the day Iraq launched a sudden air attack on 11 bases inside Iran, members of the Iranian Majlis (parliament) had begun visits to the US Embassy in Tehran. The militants holding the hostages permitted observers into the American compound for the first time since April. The visits were canceled after the Iraqi air attacks began.
The Majlis, which had begun a discussion on the hostages, has also indefinitely postponed the debate.