By supplying weapons to Iraq in its war with Iran, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat has made a bold bid to remove the taint from his name in the Arab world. Some officials here also see the decision to send Iraq thousands of tons of Soviet-made ammunition, missiles, artillery, and spare parts as reflecting Mr. Sadat's anxieties over the Reagan administration's Middle East policies.
Mr. Sadat told a gathering of Egyptian journalists Tuesday that he had agreed to Iraq's appeal for military aid out of gratitude for Iraq's assistance to Egypt in the 1973 war with Israel.
Nonetheless, he called Iraq's invasion of Iran "wrong." And he described the Iraqis as "the aggressors" in the six-month-old conflict.
Iraq has been one of Mr. Sadat's most persistent detractors among the majority of Arab nations that has denounced Egypt for its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and severed diplomatic ties. But Egyptian officials and commentators have long argued that a rapprochement with their former allies is inevitable. They claim that it has been the Arab world that has suffered and its attempt to isolate Egypt, its most stable and militarily most powerful member.
A further narrowing of the Egyptian-Iraqi diplomatic rift is now expected -- a "natural development that would have happened anyway," says a senior Foreign Ministry official. But he acknowledged that the gesture toward Iraq was in part a product of Egypt's concern over the direction of American policy in the Middle East.
"The situation is very serious in the region." he added. "If President Sadat is concerned about Mr. Reagan's policies, so is everybody else. There is still a big question mark hanging over the intentions of the Reagan administration."
Egyptian officials are disturbed by Mr. Reagan's reported sympathies toward the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem and the "new priority" at the State Department that appears to promote resisting Soviet influence in the Middle East over the Palestinian issue.
They are likewise afraid that President Reagan will press for the "Jordanian option," which would involve King Hussein of Jordan in the Camp David-based talks on Palestinian autonomy at a point earlier than Mr. Sadat would like.
Egyptian diplomats also were said to have been unnerved last week by remarks made by Secretary of State Alexander Haig. Mr. Haig told a Senate subcommittee that the Camp David agreements had discouraged Saudi Arabia from pursuing a "constructive" role in the search for peace in the Middle East. The suggestion that Camp David somehow contradicts constructive diplomacy prompted speculation that the Reagan administration has begun to back away from the agreements worked out under President Carter.
In public, President Sadat and his foreign policy advisers have never wavered from their adherence to Camp David, knowing that this could jeopardize Israel's final withdrawal from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, scheduled for April 1982.
THus, the opening of Iraq is not likely to herald the imminent demise of President Sadat's moderate, pro-American posture. However, considering the glaring failure to date of the Palestinian autonomy negotiations and Egyptian fears about Reagan policies, diplomatic observers believe that Mr. Sadat is now particularly eager to restore his credentials in the Arab world.