'War not going to end soon,' Iranians told
After limited success in pushing back Iraqi forces from some of the border towns inside Iranian territory, Iran's leaders apparently are preparing their people for a long armed struggle with Iraq.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Friday prayer leader of Tehran, said over the weekend: "This war is not going to end soon."
He added reassuringly, however, that Iranians should not fear shortages caused by the war, because the country has "sufficient amounts of food and fuel" tucked away to last for "a very long time."
Ayatollah Khamenei, who is a close defense adviser to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, made a visit to the border areas about the middle of last week and returned to the capital full of reports of Iranian military successes. At least some of them seemed likely to be exaggerations.
Meanwhile, the number of Iraqi attacks reported was smaller than in the preceding 10 days, but they did occur despite claims of a unilateral cease-fire by Baghdad. Probably to emphasize that the Iraqi threat still in regarded as totally serious, Iranian propagandists have begun reporting the numbers of people killed or wounded in Iraqi air raids.
Not surprisingly, strong anti-Iraqi feelings have been developing more rapidly in the border areas that have borne the brunt of the fighting, rather than farther in the interior. One civilian, asked in a television interview in Ahvaz what he thought was the reason for Iraqi bombardment of residential areas, replied:
"They want the civilians to vacate the city, so that their forces will meet less resistance when they arrive here."
Fierce fighting reportedly has continued in Khorramshahr in recent days, with Iranian rangers sent in to assist in defending the town. the rangers, trained specifically to defend Iran's sovereign borders, had earlier acquired a bad reputation by assisting the Shah to stay in power.
They now appear to have regained the confidence of the new Iranian regime and have been winning cautious praise from the Muslim mullahs.
Though the Islamic fundamenalists have had to admit the role of the armed forces in keeping large chunks of Iranian territory, particularly in Khuzestan, from falling into Iraqi hands the mullahs cannot afford to let it appear that it was the Army alone that saved the country.
They consequently have been putting much emphasis on the role of Revolutionary Guards and other untrained volunteers in defending the borders.
Meanwhile, the warning by Tehran leaders to other Arab states to stay out of the war may not have been without reason. Among the vehicles captured by the Iranians in Khuzestan reportedly were some bearing Jordanian number plates.
Also found by the Iranians on captured Iraqi troops allegedly were grenades made in Egypt. Earlier there had been scattered reports in the Iranian news media that Egyptian pilots had been found among Arab airmen who have fallen into Iranian hands.
Great importance is being given by Tehran to the reported trip by former Iranian premier Shahpour Bakhtiar from Paris to Amman, Jordan en route to Baghdad. Mr. Bakhtiar was reported to have made a trip to Baghdad in September, before the escalation of the border clashes.
Earlier he had told a newspaper interviewer in Paris, "Befor the school bells ring again, I will be in Tehran with my Cabinet."
The school bells in Iran normally ring on Sept. 23, at the end of summer vacations. It was perhaps no coincidence that the Iraqi air attacks accurred on Sept. 22, after an escalation of the fighting on the border during the previous week.
Whatever went wrong and prevented Mr. Bakhtiar from coming to Tehran "before the school bells ring," Tehran now expects him to draw up plans with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for the overthrow of the present Iranian regime.
This, in fact, may have contributed to Ayatollah Khamenei's claim: "This war is not going to end soon."