Iraqi pullout a gain for Khomeini

Iraqi strong man Saddam Hussein's unilateral decision to withdraw unconditionally his few troops remaining in Iran is a reminder to the Arabs of the Middle East of the squeeze on them of militant powers on their flanks, Monitor correspondent Geoffrey Godsell writes.

One such power is Iran, victor in the Gulf war over Iraq and a threat to the Gulf's Arab states.

Mr. Hussein's decision is another plus for Iran's fundamentalist Shia Muslim religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Iraqi President had launched his war against Iran in September 1980, hoping that a quick, sharp blow would bring down the Ayatollah. The result has been the opposite: The Ayatollah is strengthened, and Saddam Hussein is weakened.

Ayatollah Khomeini indicated how sure he felt of himself in his response June 21 to the Iraqi announcement. Withdrawal of all Iraqi troops from Iran, he said, was not enough to end the war. It was only one of his conditions for bringing hostilities to an end. The Ayatollah was not on this occasion more specific about what he wanted. But earlier Iranian pronouncements demanded the trial of Saddam Hussein and Iraq's payment of as much as $150 billion in reparations.

Ayatollah Khomeini's presence looms over the Gulf more ominously than ever. The uncertainties about his next moves only deepen the concern of his Arab neighbors.

Mr. Hussein's announcement of the withdrawal of the last Iraqi troops from Iran came at the end of a speech in which he rejected outside interpretations that Iraq had suffered defeat. It was enough credit for Iraq, he said, that its troops had fought on Iranian soil for 20 months even though Iran was so much bigger in population and land area than Iraq.

''The aim of Iraqi withdrawal,'' he explained, ''is to deny Iran any pretext for prolonging the war. We also want to pave the way for a successful nonaligned summit conference (scheduled in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, Sept. 6-10.)'' Any decision by the nonaligned movement to shift the conference from Baghdad because of the Gulf war would be a heavy blow to Saddam Hussein. The holding of the conference in Baghdad would automatically transfer the three-year presidency of the movement to him from Cuba's Fidel Castro, the present incumbent. Moving the September summit elsewhere would put this in doubt.

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