Gulf war grows more political than military

The Gulf war is becoming more and more a political rather than a military battle between iran and iraq. In this context, iran's protracted internal power struggle appears to be one of the biggest obstacles hindering the search for an end to the conflict.

"The war is an integral part of iranian domestic politics," Mansour Farhang, a close aide to President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr and former Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, told the Monitor Dec. 15.

Mr. Farhang is deeply concerned about the human cost of the 11-week-old war -- especially the destruction of iranian centers of population in the war zone and the esti mated 1 million internal refugees. And he adds that "the tragedy is that we have reached a stalemate in the domestic power struggle which prevents us from putting an end to the enormous human misery."

Iran was able to afford such a state of affairs in the case of the occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran because Iranians saw that as risking the loss only of international prestige and previously accumulated funds.

"But the war is at the expense of our resources and of human lives," Mr. Farhang says.

One of several aides to the Iranian head of state interviewed by this reporter, Mr. Farhang freely admits that "there is no military solution to this conflict."

Although Iran's presidency cleary has ideas for at least a temporary political resolution of the Gulf War, it is politically hampered by the insistence of the religious fundamentalists, supported by Iran's religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in the continuation of hostilities until the townfall of Iraq President Saddam Hussein's Baath regime. (Conversely, one of President Hussein's aims has been to bring down the Khomeini regime.)

Mr. Farhang claims that President Hussein has indicated in conversation with Cuban Foreign Minister Isidoro Malmierca Peoli that he wishes to find a way out of the present conflict. "Hussein wants to know what we will give him in return ," Mr. Farhang says.

Official close to Iran's President be lieve that a solution can be found on the basis of an iraqi withdrawal to the lines agreed upon in the 1975 Algiers accord. "We are ready to work out a face-saving device for Hussein," Mr. Farhang said.

The iranian presidency appears to be prepared to go to great lengths to end the Gulf war on the basis of an Iraqi withdrawal. Its reasoning rests on the following assumptions:

* Iraq's President Hussein, faced with political difficulties at home, is caught in his own trap. He is in dire need of a military and political victory, such as occupation of Iran's oil city of Abadan. But given losses during the battle for Khorramshahr he cannot afford a big military and political operation.

* Iran and Iraq have no dispute about territory. The struggle for the Shatt al Arab waterway is of a symbolic nature. "Sooner or later we will return to the joint commission overseeing the waterway," one presidential aide said. Iran and Iraq are therefore involved in a political struggle waged on the battlefield , a struggle that is increasingly deteriorating into a war of nerves.

* Iran and Iraq have exhausted each other militarily. Further sacrifices do not justify the political gains. But Iran, unlike Iraq, can afford a military standoff politically.

* Regional factors favor a resolution of the hostilities. The Arab oil states in the Gulf wish to see neither iran nor Iraq winning the war. "If we guarantee that the conflict will continue even if Iraq withdraws from our territory, the Gulf Arabs will support an end to the fighting," one presidential aide said.

Mr. Farhang insists that "whatever happens, Hussein is doomed. But the fundamental problem remains because he probably will be succeeded by another Baath leader. Our problem is that the roots of this war and of its continuation lie in our domestic politics.

"Phrased in other words: How do we convince Khomeini of political realities? How can we work on the assumption of the downfall of the Baath regime when we don't know how long this process will take?"

Iran's fundamentals firmly believe that the Baath regime will collapse. An Iraqi withdrawal is viewed in fundamentalist circles as the beginning of an islamic revolution in Iraq.

For the time being, fundamentalists and moderates in iran appear incapable of establishing a meeting of the minds. Independent of each other, each group implements its own policies. While the fundamentalists continue to aim for the military activities to defensive operations, confident that as far as Iraq is concerned, time is on their side.

"We could put an end to the war if Iran had the collective political will," says Mr. Farhang. "But this would imply that the war is no longer a function of the domestic power struggle. The problem is that Bani-Sadr's concept of iran leaves room for the fundamentalists. But the fundamentalists do not envision any future role for the President."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.