THE Iran-Iraq war -- now in its sixth year -- continues to cast an unfortunate shadow on other Gulf nations as well as on the United States and the Soviet Union, both of which have vital links to the region. As spelled out in the final communiqu'e issued at the end of last week's meeting of Persian Gulf leaders, the latest escalation of air attacks and guerrilla operations in the conflict threatens regional stability.
The Iran-Iraq war has gone on far too long -- and continues to go on largely because of the stubbornness of the leaders of the two antagonists. That is not to say that there are not underlying grievances on both sides: for Iran, the original Iraqi invasion back in September 1980; for Iraq, the single-minded Iranian determination to topple the Iraqi government. And there are long-range historical differences and rivalries.
But clearly, such deeper grievances will not be resolved by more and more warfare -- and the terrible toll that the conflict takes. It is difficult to find any justification in such attitudes as that of the speaker of the Iranian Parliament, who is quoted as saying that ``those who call an end for the war at present are ignorant.''
The war itself has now entered what many analysts believe to be a new phase of hit-and-run attacks on land as well as stepped up air attacks. This contrasts with the mass ground attacks involving thousands of soldiers that characterized much of the earlier years of the war. But the newer types of attacks are no less dangerous -- both for the combatants and civilians involved -- as well as for other nations in the region, including the Gulf oil-producing nations. Indeed, the members of the Gulf Cooperati on Council who met last week at Muscat, Oman, are concerned that increasing air raids, such as the stepped up Iraqi air attacks against Iran's Kharg Island oil terminal, might eventually pull other nations in the region into the conflict, either through direct air raids or through terrorist incidents.
For now, the war appears to be locked in a stalemate. Iraq continues to dominate the air war. But Iran, as the Gulf states realize, is capable of mounting severe terrorist incidents throughout the area.
The war has also raised questions about the credibility -- and diplomatic ability -- of the US in helping to produce a cease-fire. Soviet diplomatic influence is growing throughout the Gulf.
It is in the long-term interest of the world community that the war end. Leaders of the two nations involved must see this as clearly as the non-Gulf world.