This hillside town of tigh-packed brown square houses must be a pleasant place in springtime. Perched against a rocky ridge some 10 miles from the border with Iraq, the groves of date palms and fruit trees that line its swift-flowing river contrast strongly with the dun-colored sand desert spread below.
But in late summer the heat of the desert pervades even the town, and this summer its 50,000 or so residents have even more reason to stay firmly shut in their homes.
Half a dozen Soviet-made T-62 battle tanks of the Iraq Army now ring the main square, their crews starting to relax after the battles of past days. Some of the Iraqi soldiers explore around the town, adding yet more posters of a grinning President Saddam Hussein to those already liberally posted up in recent days.
In one former Iranian command post, an Iraqui soldier painstakingly rips through every picture of Ayatollah Khomeini on the wall. When one pink notice came away in his hand, he throws it to the dusty floor, repeatedly grinding the Ayatollah's likeness beneath his foot.
There are occasional glimpses of the remaining residents of the town, though many have fled back farther into Iranian territory. Half a dozen women wearing printed jackets over basically dark-colored robes are in deep discussion with one tank crew. The women have large (and empty) food pans in their hands.
"You should have come here yesterday," says one of the Iraqi officers. "We organized a general distribution of foodstuffs here in the main square, and the townspeople formed a queue that long." He waved expansively.
"You see, before the Iraqi Army came here three days ago, the town was cut off from supplies. And the Khomeini agents who were here didn't organize any help for the citizens.
"Only the Iraqi Army has helped them," he summed up. "Though, of course, we are not here to stay. It was just to bring Khomeini to his senses that we came here."
Three miles farther on, the ruins of a former Iranian broadcasting station sit on the plateau overlooking the town. Here, a lively brigadier general who gave his name as Abu Khadanfar rolled out his maps to explain the local military situation.
He said that the Iranian resistance his troops had met in the area had proved relatively slight. This came as no surprise, he said, because of the weakness of the current Iranian regime.
On our route from the border, there had been few signs of extensive fighting. We passed only about half a dozen burned-out and destroyed military vehicles.
At the border post itself, at Khusrawi, two compact stone-built forts face each orther from opposing hilltops, a few hundred yards each side of where the international frontier lies.
One Iraqi who was present during the fighting explained how Iraqi commandos had crept behind the Iranian fortress and entered it from the rear. From then on, the Iraqui advance apparently was relatively quick. General Khadanfar said that by Sept. 26 his forces had reached their present positions 35 miles into Iranian territory.
General Khadanfar reported that the front had been quiet since the Iraqis established their present line. But they were not, he emphasized, here to stay.
He said that the original Iraqi activities in this sector, at the beginning of September, were designed to restore to Iraqi sovereighty the two villages of Zain al-Qaws and Saif Saad, slightly farther south, which the Iraqis claim as historically and legally theirs.
"But the Khomeini clique still wouldn't respect Iraqi sovereignty, here or in the Shatt al Arab, so we had to push on forward," he said. "We came here to make the Iranian regime come to its senses," the general stressed." And then we will withdraw as soon as they respect our sovereignty."