AMMAN, Jordan — New internal strains are reported to be surfacing in Iraq at a time when Western analysts are predicting that Iran will soon launch a major offensive in an effort to settle the six-year-old Iran-Iraq War.
According to reports reaching the West, an officers' plot against Iraq's President Saddam Hussein was discovered last month and was brutally suppressed. As many as 40 army officers have reportedly been executed in connection with the plot, although there has been no official confirmation.
The Iraqis have confirmed that Naim Haddad, a member of the governing Revolutionary Command Council, was relieved of his post. No reason was cited, but according to reports reaching the West, Haddad was executed after a sharp debate in the Command Council. He is said to have questioned Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz about Iraq's relations with the United States.
General Reported Executed
Gen. Omar Haza, a former army commander said to be close to former President Hardan Takriti, was reported to have been executed after a dispute with President Hussein that began when Hussein tried to console the general on the loss of a son in the war.
Adding to Iraq's problems, according to reports filtering out of the country, are a series of defections to Iran. Said to be among the defectors is Gen. Aziz Jaboumy, chief of staff of the 7th Army Corps, who reportedly took his family on a working visit to Pakistan, then disappeared and resurfaced in Iran.
All this comes at a time when many Western analysts believe that Iraq has reached a crucial point in the war with Iran, which Iraq started in September, 1980.
In February, Iranian forces crossed into Iraq and seized the port of Al Faw at the head of the Persian Gulf. The Iraqis have been unable to retake the town, despite repeated promises that they were about to do so.
In July, Iraqi forces suffered another major reverse when Iranian forces recaptured the Iranian border town of Mehran, which the Iraqis had seized on May 17.
Through the summer, Iran has been moving up thousands of troops in the area north of Basra, Iraq's second largest city, in anticipation of what many expect will be the long-promised "final offensive" against Iraq.
Because of the rainy season, most officials believe the Iranian offensive will have to be under way by the end of October. Otherwise, it will have to wait until February.
Stepping Up Activity
In the meantime, Iran and Iraq are both stepping up their military activity. Iran has been shelling civilian centers near Basra, for the first time in a year, and Iraq has been attacking Iranian economic targets, refineries and power stations--and reportedly using poison gas.
Military analysts are divided over Iran's chances for breaking through Iraq's substantial fortifications in sufficient strength to destabilize the Iraqi regime.
"I think there is a better-than-even chance that the Iraqis will hold," said Tom McNaugher, an analyst who follows the war for the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Others, who asked to remain anonymous, said that while Iraq has an advantage on paper in terms of sophisticated military hardware, the armed forces seem to have lost their enthusiasm for the fight.
"If they won't fight, there is nothing anyone can do to help them," one analyst said.
The prospect of an Iranian breakthrough conjures up nightmare scenarios in the minds of many Arab government officials and Western diplomats.
The Iranians have established a Higher Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, headed by an Iraqi Shia Muslim mullah (cleric) named Mohammed Bakr Hakim, and presumably this group will be given control of southern Iraq in the event of an Iranian victory.
Such a prospect terrifies Kuwait, which adjoins southern Iraq, as well as the tiny, oil-producing sheikdoms along the Persian Gulf.
"Look at what happened following the collapse of the central government in Lebanon in terms of chaos in the region," one analyst said. "Viewed in terms of Iraq, with a far bigger population and far more strategic position, the effects of an Iranian victory are absolutely mind-boggling."
MP, Los Angeles Times