Iraq has launched a diplomatic blitz aimed at generating broad international pressure on Iran to end the Gulf war, according to Arab sources close to Iraq. This drive, says a highly-placed Iraqi official, carries this message: ``From now on it will be total war or total peace.''
In the past, the source continues, Iraq had agreed to piecemeal United Nations-mediated agreements with Iran, including prohibitions on striking civilian targets and using chemical weapons. Now Iraqi officials say that ``limiting the war only prolongs it and plays into Iran's hands.''
Iraq was spurred into its diplomatic effort by this month's massive Iranian offensive in the southern front. Although Iraq repulsed the drive, Iraq ``got the scare of its life,'' says a high Arab source.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Tareq Aziz has spent the past few days urging world leaders to raise pressure on Iran to negotiate.
He met with United Nations Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar in New York this past weekend.
On Monday he had talks with Secretary of State George Shultz in Washington. Yesterday he met with Britain's foreign minister, Sir Geoffrey Howe, then flew to Moscow for a chat with Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.
According to a Mideast diplomat who had recent contact with high Iraqi officials, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein feels more than ever that Iraq's existence could be jeopardized if it loses even one battle. As Iranian forces gained ground in their March offensive, Iraq felt it might be doomed as an independent nation. Iraq, therefore, ``must bring Iran to its knees and fast,'' the diplomat says.
An informed UN official describes his view of Iraqi thinking: ``As a result of its recent defeat, the Iranian leadership's divisions have been sharpened. Now is the time to increase economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran.
``On the one hand, Iraq must use all military means at its disposal: bomb cities, attack Iran's oil terminal at Kharg Island, isolate Iran by shooting down civilian aircraft over Iranian skies.
``On the other hand Iraq must mobilize all diplomatic means available and enlist the support of France, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, the US, Japan, India, and others who may have leverage over Iran in order to bring [Iranian leader Ayatollah] Khomeini kicking and screaming to the bargaining table.''
[Meanwhile, Iraq kept up military pressure Tuesday. It said its warplanes pounded seven Iranian cities and two ships in the Persian Gulf, Reuters reports. Iran retaliated by shelling the Iraqi port city of Basra. Iran also threatened to expand the war to the ports of nearby Arab states that aid Iraq.]
Whether the US and Soviets will follow Iraq's lead and try to strangle Iran politically and economically is uncertain.
``At recent UN Security Council proceedings, the US paid lip service to Iraq's position and the Soviet Union remained silent,'' says a West European diplomat who follows Mideast affairs. ``Both the United States and the Soviet Union consider Iran, ultimately, as the big prize, the geopolitical choice morsel which they hope to inherit when the present turmoil is over.
``Both separately provide Iraq with military equipment and use Iraq to weaken Iran. But neither wants Iran to collapse and to be pulverized. Syria and North Korea would never have delivered advanced Soviet weaponry to Iran had there been a red light from Moscow. The same is true of Israeli military sales to Iran: A red light from Washington would have stopped them.''
Despite Iraq's efforts to get Iran to the negotiating table, a well-placed Western official says, ``chances for a negotiated settlement of the war in one stroke or by stages, are slimmer than ever. We are faced with a protracted war.''
Iran has long refused to negotiate an end to the war as long as Iraqi President Hussein is in power.
``Iran has lost a battle but it has not lost the war,'' explains a well-placed Western official.
``Political repercussions of the recent defeat will take months to make themselves felt at the top.''
The official says that Iran's arguments at the UN have some validity: Iran did not start the war; the Security Council did not try to stop Iraqi aggression in September 1980. And now, Iran is trying to keep the war within legal bounds and opposes violations of international agreements such as the Geneva Convention on POWs and the Geneva Protocol of 1925 prohibiting the use of poison gas.
Last week, Iran's Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Hussein Kazempour-Ardebili said Iranian soldiers had been injured by chemical weapons in recent fighting.