Iran-Iraq update

THERE is evidence that official Washington has been doing some rethinking of its Iran policy. On April 21 Richard W. Murphy, assistant secretary of state for Middle East affairs, stated to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East affairs that ``we meet, we have met'' with representatives of the main anti-Khomeini underground in Iran, an organization called the Mujahideen-e Khalq.

Back during 1985 when the United States was clandestinely selling weapons to the Khomeini regime through Israeli intermediaries, the official Washington line was anti-mujahideen.

On July 24, 1985 the same Mr. Murphy informed the same House committee that the mujahideen was ``anti-democratic, anti-American'' and a practitioner of ``terrorism.'' He also identified the mujahideen as having been active in bringing down the former Shah and as being Marxist.

The anti-mujahideen stance in Washington seems to have prevailed down to early April when State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman said the mujahideen had ``a long record of terrorist activity.''

But by April 21, Mr. Murphy asserted that ``we are not boycotting them'' and that they are ``a player'' in Iran today.

Supporting Iran against Iraq in the six-year war has been standard Israeli policy. Israel has been delivering weapons and spare parts for US weapons to Iran throughout the war. Israel was prominent in arranging the attempted arms for hostages deal which blew up earlier this year and heavily damaged the Reagan administration in the process.

Has Israel also changed its view of that war?

Daniel Pipes, a long time supporter of Israel, co-signed an article in the April 27 issue of the New Republic advocating that the US switch from a pro-Khomeini policy to a pro-Iraq policy. Specifically, Mr. Pipes proposed that the US ``consider upgrading the intelligence it is supplying to Baghdad to balance the military damage done to Iraq by the `arms-for-hostage swap.''' He also proposed ``opening a line of export-import credits'' and reduce tariffs on Iraqi goods.

Certainly Washington, and perhaps Israel as well, has been shaken by the course of the Iran-Iraq war.

A major Iranian offensive against Iraq's second largest city, Basra reached a climax in late January. The big battle was fought Jan. 25-29. The Iranians broke through the outer defenses of Basra and pushed to within artillery range of the city. They were finally stopped but only after the city was rendered virtually uninhabitable.

The Iraqis counterattacked from Jan. 31 to Feb. 8 and regained some of their lost ground, but not enough to put Basra out of danger.

On April 7 the Iranians opened what some observers think is a preliminary to another big offensive.

The January offensive with another apparently in the making has raised the possibility of a decisive victory for the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The possibility has emerged that his forces might break through at Basra, deliver a decisive blow to the Iraqi army, and emerge as the dominant military power in the whole of the Arabian peninsula.

The mujahideen maintains an active lobby in Washington. It has found favor on Capitol Hill where its friends include Republican Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana. It would like to be recognized as an anti-Khomeini political force inside Iran. Its leadership is currently in Baghdad. It claims to be in effective clandestine opposition to the Khomeini regime inside Iran. It says that 140,000 of its people have been imprisoned by the Khomeini forces.

The serious question is whether the US should go over from a policy of wooing Khomeini (which the arms-for-hostages deal essentially was) to a policy of backing the anti-Khomeini opposition inside Iran.

Whether those who favor open recognition of the mujahideen win probably depends on whether the Israeli government is sufficiently worried at the prospect of a major Khomeini triumph to be willing to break off its own dealings with his regime.

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