Iraq's original game plan in its offensive against Iran went drastically wrong, according to information emerging in several Mideast capitals. The original plan had Iraq forces crossing the border and rolling swiftly forward to join up with dissident Iranian tribes that would stage an uprising in their support. The "liberated areas" would then be used as the starting point for an alternative Iranian government, informed Iraqi opposition sources say.
A key role in this plan was to be played by former Iranian premier Shahpour Bakhtiar, with whom Iraqi government officials admit they have had contacts for some time. He had virtually assured them that the extensive Bakhtiari tribes around Kermanshah, from whose stock he springs, would be among the first to join the uprising.
Bakhtiari opponents to the present Iranian regime have received military training over past months in Oman and Egypt, as well as Iraq, Arab intelligence reports say.
As it happened, the whole plan came unstuck. The Iraqi military forces did not achieve the lightning victory they had planned for, modeled in many respects on Israel's six-day war of 1967. And the Iranian tribal dissidents, instead of becoming the basis for a wave of opposition to the Tehran government of Iran, found themselves swept aside in a wave of defensive Iranian nationalism.
(Even the ethnic Arabs among Iran's varied minorities appear to have accorded the slowly advancing Iraqis a less than enthusiastic welcome to their regions around the head of the Gulf. But Baghdad's relations with these Arab's own separatist political groups had been strained since 1975.)
Whatever it was that stymied the Iraqi's original plan, it certainly turned their relations with Mr. Bakhtiar very sour.
Summoned to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, Oct. 2, he made it only as far as the Euphrates city of Ramadi before having a furious now with his hosts and turning back for the long drive to Jordan, Arab sources say.
The Iraqi military meanwhile was getting ever further bogged down in its advance. It now has 8 of its 13 divisions tied down in a seemingly endless war of attrition across the 300-mile-long front line.
With three further divisions forming the essential second line of defense, only single Army divisions are left for security duties in Baghdad and the restive northern Kurdish regions, Iraqi oppositionists say.
Recent reports from Jordan spoke of at least 38 planeloads of East-bloc ammunition and spares having been shipped into Iraq from politically vacillating North Yemen since the Marxist South Yemen tacitly back Iraq in the war, North Yemen is the only one with appreciable stocks of Soviet weaponry.)
Many ordinary Iraqis continue to take the optimistic martial propaganda produced by their rulers at face value. But in some of the Shiite Muslim homes that house a clear majority of Iraq's Arab population, the traditional green flag of Shiite mourning is increasingly displayed, some reports from Iraq say.
Meanwhile, exiled Iraqi oppositionists claim that the Kurdish areas in the north of the country are playing host to an increasing number of armed rebels, of Arab as well as Kurdish origin.
Exiled Iraqi Communist Party spokesman Saad Ahmed predicts that the opposition movement in the country will grow as the war drags on. "Or if it ends with the Iraqi armies forced peacefully or otherwise to return to Iran's former borders," he adds.
Mr. Ahmed was realistic about the present potential of his own party, which enjoyed a brief flirtation with power in Iraq before the present Baathist regime's backers seized power in 1968.
The Communists and other oppositionists have suffered bitter repression since then, "and especially since Saddam Hussein became President last year," says Mr. Ahmed. (The Iraq government meanwhile retains its treaty of friendship with Moscow.)
The opposition spokesman thus considers that "the opposition which can do something right now is that inside the Army and the [Baathist] party."
Some Mideast specialists are speculating that the continuing fighting must eventually weaken Saddam Hussein. Mr. Ahmed divided the "internal" opposition into two main kinds: the opposition from inside the regime, which would seek to save it from its outside critics; and that current inside the ruling party, much weakened by recent purges, which would still tilt toward Baathist Syria.
One example of the first kind of opposition, much discussed in Arab capitals, would have Saddam's predecessor and longtime ally, Field Marshal Ahmed Hassan Bakr, brought back into the presidency by dissatisfied Army officers. Field Marshal Bakr's political base was always in the military, unlike Saddam, who matured in the civilian wing of the party.
For now, Saddam seems to be keeping his constituency happy, with massive injections of consumer goods and a stream of victorious propaganda.
But as his conscripted armies get stuck in the marshy winter of the battlefields, and if the claimed rebellion in the north takes hold, then the question of challenge to his power might suddenly cease to be academic.