Iraq and Iran now are fighting a war which neither can win but which both may lose, according to American defense analysts. The analysts say that if anything like Western logic prevailed, both sides would be ready for a cease-fire agreement. Indeed, the United States and other nations appear at this time to be preparing a new diplomatic push to end, with the help of the United Nations, this nearly seven-week-old war.
But some US officials doubt that much can be done diplomatically at this time. The war has for the most part been anything but intense. Both sides seem to have sufficient stockpiles to keep fighting for some time to come. With winter approaching, Iran is suffering a shortage of kerosene, its main fuel for both cooking and heating, but no one is quite sure what impact that might have on Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
American analysts are receiving mixed reports about damage to the two countries' vital oil facilities. Each has struck at the other's pipelines and storage tanks but there has not been any systematic destruction of these or, more important, of refineries or pumping facilities. Damage to pipelines and storage tanks can be fairly easily contained and repaired. Both countries are managing to export limited quantities of oil.
"Iraq can't win military or politically," said one American defense analyst. "She doesn't have the depth; and even if she can seize it, she can't occupy and control much Iranian territory."
And "Iran doesn't have the military force, equipment, organization, and leadership to completely eject Iraq," he continued.
US defense analysts think bth sides have been troubled by leadership problems.
Iraq's problem has not been its Soviet equipment, some of these officials say , but the way in which that equipment has been used. The Iraqis, one official said, have always feared sending any large numbers of officers for training in the Soviet Union for fear that they might return to subvert the regime.
The lack of systematic advanced training is showing.
In the US view, the Iraqis may have severely miscalculated as to how quickly they could move into Iran. They apparently hoped that a quick thrust into Iran would topple the Iranian leadership under Imam Khomeini. But it has not worked out that way. Iranian resistance has proved greater than expected.
But Pentagon officials say it is absurd to think that it would make much difference in the war if the American hostages in Iran were released and the Us then supplied Iran with the spare parts and military equipment which it had purchased here. The officials say it is not at all clear that Iran has much interest in the list of spare parts and equipment which is potentially available. They add that Iran is already in possession of a number of items on that list but is clearly incapable of using them effectively.
When the Iranian parliament set conditions for the release of the hostages, it called for the unfreezing of Iranian assets held in the United States. Those assets are understood to include more than $500 million in spare parts and other military equipment. But US officials say that Iran had earlier given the US the discretion to dispose of much of that equipment as it saw fit. The US, they say , is thus not obligated to send to Iran every item on the list. There are some indications that the US will refuse to send to Iran what it considers t be "lethal" or "offensive" weapons. It may agree to send such items as aircraft parts and jeep tires, but no agree to send Maverick ari-to-ground missiles, for example. The officials say further that Iran has not been pressing for spare parts from the US, that its leadership is clearly divided over the issue, and that because of the sensitive nature of the issue, the US is not going to be the first to raise it.
Pentagon officials say the France, in the meantime, has been supplying both sides with military equipment: aricraft engines, tank parts, and antitank missiles to the Iranians and jet fighters, helicopters, and antitank and other missiles to the Iraqis.
North Korea is said to be shipping arms to Iran in return for oil which it has picked up at Iran's Lavan Island, situated in the Gulf out of the range of Iraqi fighter-bombers.