Day and night since Feb. 28, when the first Iraqi missile fell on Tehran, hundreds of people have besieged the counters at the Iranian telecommunications company in downtown Tehran, trying to place a call to relatives or friends abroad. ``Everyone is entitled to a 60-second call,'' the operators warn. ``Just say that you're well and alive or give the names of those of your family who have been wounded or killed in the attacks. But you're not allowed to mention any street or neighborhood's name.''
Iranian authorities are trying hard to avoid the leaking of any information that could help Iraq target its missiles more accurately. Overseas calls from private telephones have been banned. Incoming calls from abroad are near impossible.
On Tuesday, the Associated Press reports, an Iraqi missile crashed into a residential neighborhood of Tehran, killing or wounding several civilians. Iranian radio claimed Iran had hit Baghdad with a missile in retaliation. Unverifiable press reports have put Iranian casualties in this ``war of the cities'' in the hundreds.
Iraq also claimed on Tuesday that its warplanes hit a ``very big naval target'' in the Gulf, breaking a three-week lull in attacks on Iran's oil shipping.
It is the ``war of the cities,'' however, according to Iranian travelers arriving in Europe in recent days, that has hardened attitudes among Iran's leaders. Official reactions appear to have dashed hopes for an early implementation of UN Resolution 598, calling for a cease-fire.
On Sunday Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi went on Tehran Radio to say, ``No one will force us to cave in.''
Separately, Deputy Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Larijani said, ``Rumors circulating at the UN that Iran has accepted Resolution 598 are groundless.''
Only last week, Iran's ambassador at the UN was said to have assured Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar of Iran's acceptance of Resolution 598. And, in an interview a few weeks ago, Mr. Larijani said Iran backed the resolution.
The changed position is apparently the result of pressure from hardliners.
Some observers in Tehran noted the public absence of the normally highly visible Parliament speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani soon after the first Iraqi missile attacks. It is likely, these observers say, that Mr. Rafsanjani visited the battlefront to query military commanders on prospects for launching a large ground offensive.
In a brief phone conversation, a senior Iranian official insisted that, as the rainy season is not yet over in the southern battlefront area, Iranian forces may try for a breakthrough. In past years, Iranian forces have usually launched major assaults in the rainy season since the marshy conditions in the lowlands play to foot soldiers' advantage against the more mechanized Iraqi forces.
Meanwhile the continued Iraqi bombardments on residential areas is putting a serious strain on Iranian-Soviet relations, which had improved after the US boosted its naval presence in the Gulf last summer. Iranian officials say the missiles fired at Tehran are Soviet-made. The Soviets and the Iraqis deny this assertion.
An Iranian diplomat who just returned to Europe from Tehran says he ``saw one missile which failed to explode. It had inscriptions in Russian. But we still have to investigate whether those missiles were sold directly by the Soviets to Iraq [and] whether the Soviets explicitly authorized Iraq to fire those rockets at our cities.''
On Tuesday, Speaker Rafsanjani on Tuesday accused the United States and France of helping Iraq modify the missiles to reach targets in Iran. Two days earlier, Iranian mobs had attacked the Soviet missions in Isfahan and Tehran, drawing sharp protests from Moscow. On Monday, the Soviet UN envoy called for a Security Council meeting ``to bring a quick end to the war of the cities.''
Tehran ``is likely to try avoid a head on diplomatic confrontation with Moscow on this particular affair,'' says an Iranian political exile, ``because it is aware that the USSR is the only country that opposes the vote of sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council.''
Western observers in Tehran agree that the missile attacks are unlikely to alter the overall stalemate in the war. Iraqi attacks on Iranian civilian targets in 1985 and 1987 actually reinforced the cohesion of the Iran's leaders and boosted their popular support. Tehran residents also say the relatively small size of warheads renders the Iraqi missiles less lethal than raids out by bombers.