Iran, Iraq move to conciliation -- but you'd never know from newscasts
Nicosia, Cyprus — War communiques from Iraq and Iran have a style all their own, as a sampling from last week shows: Baghdad "Voice of the Masses": ". . . Total known enemy losses are 85 dead and two tanks, one APC [armored personnel carrier], six vehicles, one missile launcher, one multiple rocket launcher . . .. Our losses were four martyrs in all sectors, one personnel carrier damaged."
Teheran radio: ". . . The armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran and People's Fighters, with perfect cohesion and high morale, continue to crush the enemy and relentlessly pound the positions, trenches, and fortifications of the aggressors against Islam."
You couldn't tell it by the communiques, but Iran and Iraq may be moving closer to accepting mediation to end the war. A blue-ribbon Islamic peace delegation appears to be making more progress in bringing the two parties together than any of its predecessors.
But like several missions before it, the Islamic Conference group that is shuttling between Tehran and Baghdad this week is not expected to win an immediate breakthrough between the two stubborn parties.
Iran demands that all Iraqi troops withdraw from its territory as a precondition to a cease-fire and to possible border negotiations. Iraq demands that Iran recognize its sovereignty over the Shatt al Arab waterway, which was negotiated away from Iraq under duress by the Shah in 1975, before withdrawing its forces.
But signs indicate the Islamic Conference mission has more standing and a better opportunity for success than either that of United Nations special envoy Olof Palme or that of the nonaligned conference group.
The 12-man Islamic committee is a high-powered mix including the presidents of Pakistan, Guinea, and Bangladesh; the prime minister of Turkey; the foreign ministers of Senegal, Gambia, and Malaysia; Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat, and the secretary-general of the Islamic Conference. On arrival in Tehran Feb. 28, the delegation was greeted with more security flourishes than observers had seen since the Islamic revolution two years ago. Both Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr and Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajai, who are rivals, were there to greet the peacemakers.
After meeting with Ayatollah Khomeini, a diplomat with the delegation told Reuters: "There has been no breakthrough but there has been genuine progress."
The delegation went to Baghdad March 1, via Kuwait, and is to meet with Saudi Arabian King Khalid March 3.
Meanwhile, in its sixth month, the Gulf was continues in what the Cyprus-based Arab Press Service calls "the art of restrained combat." As near as military analysts can determine, the situation on the ground is much as it was in the second month of combat.
Iraq still occupies a 40-mile wide strip of Khuzestan and is dug in to such an extent that an Iranian counteroffensive would be very costly. But the two sides each day exchange artillery fire and mount minor harassing raids. Sources say Iraq appears to be preparing to escalate the fighting this month.
Political analysts observe that along with the war, fractured infighting continues in Iran slightly worse in early March than it was in early October. In Iraq, the minority regime of Saddam Hussein still seems in control, despite now-focused opposition movements.
But because Iraq has had to commit nine of its 12 Army divisions to the war and still must watch Kurdish nationalists, Syria to the west, and opponents within -- all the while trying to keep up the appearance of normalcy --to negotiate than when he e scalated the dispute in mid-September.