Iraq has publicly asserted that release of the American hostages will not help Iran gain the upper hand in the nearly four-month-old Gulf war. But this country's repeated minimizing of the affair seems to imply that the future of the conflict nevertheless has become a major concern.
Last week, Iraq President Saddam Hussein told a group of Kuwaiti newspaper editors that he assumed the United States would resume its supply of spare parts and armaments to Iran once the hostage issue has been completely resolved.
But he added, "Iraq will not be terrified nor frightened as a result."
At present, the fighting has bogged down on both sides, largely due to winter rains.
Government officials here maintain that a normalization of relations between Washington and Tehran, if that happens with the passage of time, will not help Iran win the war. Defense Minister Adnan Khayrallah Talfah was more specific when he insisted that Iran had been unnesessarily prolonging the conflict by refusing Iraq's offers of negotiation in hopes of obtaining foreign aid.
"Even if Iran does receive outside assistance," he said, "it will not improve Iran's position."
As far as official Iraqi propaganda is concerned, the United States still is a cohort of Iran. President Hussein, for example, has pointedly accused the United States of encouraging Iran in its war against Iraq -- with the help of the Israelis, Syrians, and Libyans.
Not withstanding Baghdad's sudden offensive against Iran last Sept. 23, the Iraqi news media constantly push the line that the "racist" Iranians are the real aggressors. Iraq, they claim, is not only defending its legitimate rights but also those of the Arab people.
Both Eastern and Western diplomats here told this reporter that Iraq not only had been psychologically preparing its people for months for the war but that a military buildup already was evident in the early days of August.
With regard to the former American captives, Al- Jumhuriya, Iraq's leading official daily, commented Jan. 20 that the hostage-taking had only been "a game using fabricated fairy tale expressions" which had failed to solve Iran's shaky political situation.
"It has only managed to bring about contradictory results," the paper said.
Iraq, which broke diplomatic relations with the United States during the Arab-Israel war of 1967 -- but which nonetheless allows a relatively large American interest section to operate here, describes its present relations with Washington as "not good." Relations with the Soviet Union, on the other hand, are referred to as "good."
Only a few days before the hostage release, President Hussein said that Iraq was prepared for a possible superpower intervention. However, he did not specify from which country.
Diplomats here doubt that there will be any major change in the present military situation between the two countries, even if Iran receives limited American aid, which they consider unlikely. Both Iran and Iraq are known to be receiving a certain amount of foreign aid, according to Eastern and Western diplomats. Iraq, for example, maintains that it has no problems with its present armament situation.
These diplomats also believe that some of Iraq's military hardware, which possibly includes tanks, not only is arriving from the open international arms market, but also from such countries as Romania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Hungary. Both the Soviet Union and East Germany, which together have at least 5 ,000 military and technical advisers in Iraq, maintain that they are supplying neither Iraq nor Iran.
There appear to be renewed possibilities of a peaceful solution to the conflict now that Iran has agreed to send delegates to the Islamic summit meeting, scheduled to start Jan. 25 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, despite the announced presence of President Hussein at the conference.
So far, Iran has refused to negotiate with Iraq as long as "a single Iraqi soldier remains on Iranian soil," as President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr said several months ago. The Saudi Arabians announced Jan. 20 that the Iranians had agreed to send delegate s to the summit conference.