Iraq's No. 1 war aim -- topple Khomeini

Leaders of the ruling Baath Party here have changed their tactics in their confrontation with neighboring Iran. But their goal appears to be the same: the speedy downfall of Ayatollah Khomeini's Iranian regime.

The militant statements and military aggressiveness evident here in the past week have been replaced by a new, more moderate image and a slackening of the military effort.

(Iran, in turn, interprets this Iraqi stance as a sign of weakness, and in a hard-line declaration has vowed to continue to fight. See Iran viewpoint, Page 6.)

The Iraqi armored and infantry who last week thrust 35 miles into Iranian territory northeast of here are this week standing by, with some apparently being deployed back from the combat areas.

In the southern battlefields around the two countries' vast oil fields, fighting still continues, but at a slacker pace than before. The Iraqi strategy appears to be to consolidate their position inside the besieged Iranian cities.

Meanwhile, the tone of official statements here has softened noticeably. On Sept. 27, Foreign Minister Saadoun Hammadi was still rejecting any idea of a cease-fire in place before the Iranians completely fulfilled Iraq's demands.

"We hope they [the Iranians] will come to their senses," said Mr. Hammadi, speaking to journalists in a conference room of the building that until 1967 housed the US Embassy.

But he warned, "If they don't, then we would have to take measures." If the Iraqi Army's thrusts deep into Iran did not bring the Iranians to their senses, he said, Iraq "would have to do something more."

The American-educated foreign minister also dissociated the question of the three Iranian-occupied islands in the Strait of Hormuz from Iraq's present claims; he said this was an issue to be settled between Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which lays historic claim to the islands.

But in Mr. Hammadi's pronouncements were clear signs of a sensitivity to the many other interests being damaged by the continued fighting -- most spectacularly, his promise that Iraq would try to restore, and perhaps even to increase, former levels of oil output after the fighting ends.

"We are deeply concerned about the possible damages . . . to the world economy, and the well-being of other countries," he said, apparently sincerely.

But most significantly, this kind of sensitivity was extended by Iraq's President Saddam Hussein in a televised midnight address to the nation.

"We have no dispute with the peoples of Iran," President Saddam Hussein promised to a slightly bemused Iraqi audience fed hitherto on a daily TV diet of military fervor.

"We wish all the peoples of Iran well," the President continued, spelling out that this included not only Iranian Arabs and Kurds, but also the Persians who today form the ruling core of the present Iranian regime, as their predecessors did under the Shah.

The President's declaration came in clear contrast to previous statements denouncing "the ruling Persian clique" and "the Magi-followers in Tehran."

But in a key passage the President's address also offered effusive thanks to the Iraqi armed forces for the victories they had scored, and to the civilian organizations which backed them in Iraq.

"We have realized our goal," Saddam Hussein told them, in one indication that the troops soon would receive orders not to push further with their advance.

Shortly afterward, he spelled out in a message to the United Nations secretary-general, that Iraq would now accept a cease-fire -- provided Iran would do likewise. That message made no mention of earlier conditions.

Does this mean that Iraq has reached the limit of its military capacity in the advances of the past 10 days? The impression, gained after a visit to one frontline zone and from sundry observations around this capital city, is that the answer is a clear "no."

What does seem to be happening is that the politically adept rulers here, who have retained virtually the same regime for 12 years after a coup-fraught era of instability, now are playing a new game with Iran.

They seem to be banking on the Ayatollah's own amply demonstrated inflexibility to aid them in the next stage of the game. With Saddam hussein appearing almost angelically moderate in comparison, he is hoping to line up extra diplomatic and international pressure to bear against the ayatollahs of Iran.

"Saddam is swinging Khomeini like a cat, by the tail of his own inflexibility ," said one analyst here. "It's a clever move, because you can be almost sure that particular tail will never break."

Certainly, hope is rising among officials here that Khomeini will not remain in power much longer. But the new moderate view of the Persians here includes a realization that any regime that replaces him probably also will have to be Persian-based.

The foreign minister himself has admitted that Iraq has been in contact with former Iranian Premier Shahpour Bakhtiar, now in Paris.

The Iraqis have a series of centuries-old disputes with Iran. Saddam Hussein probably is hoping that if a friendly regime emerges in Iran then he can concentrate more on his other regional and international concerns.

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