BAGHDAD, Iraq — After Iran announced last week that it had accepted a cease-fire in its nearly eight-year-old war with Iraq, an official in Kuwait said the news has been received in his country with "an immense collective sigh of relief."
The official's remark reflected opinion not only in that tiny sheikdom but throughout the Arab states, militarily weak but wealthy in oil, that line the western shore of the Persian Gulf.
Western analysts are expecting the incipient truce to have repercussions far beyond the two warring nations--if the overtures lead to real and lasting peace. One of the most important developments many look for is a decline in the spread of militant Islamic fundamentalism from Iran, which in recent years has threatened to destabilize much of the region.
May Turn Inward
"There is a perception that Iran is so weakened that it will have to turn inward, to mend its domestic fences," one diplomat said. "The export of the Islamic revolution will take second place to the perpetuation of the revolution at home."
For Arab governments from Lebanon to Kuwait, any decline in fundamentalist stirrings will be welcome. Even for Western countries such as the United States, a decline in the activities of Muslim fundamentalists offers the prospect of less terrorism and a possible opening for the release of hostages held by Iranian-financed groups.
In Lebanon, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, the so-called Party of God, has recently become the most important example of the success of Iran's efforts to export its revolution. Hezbollah, with the support of Iranian oil money and a detachment of Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guards, has become the most important force in Muslim politics in Lebanon.
Talk of Quick Resolution
Since Iran's acceptance of the U.N. cease-fire proposal, Hezbollah's spiritual leader, Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, has started talking about a quick resolution of the hostage problem.
"We call for the solution of this issue in a practical and just way to achieve happy results," Fadlallah said Sunday.
The gulf state that has suffered the most from fundamentalism is Kuwait. Iranian-backed groups have attacked embassies there, bombed oil and industrial centers--even tried to kill the ruler, Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah.
Kuwait, unlike Saudi Arabia, exports all its oil through the Persian Gulf, and for this reason the government asked the United States last year to provide a naval escort for its tankers. An end to the war will make safe transit possible for Kuwaiti tankers for the first time in years.
Crackdown in Kuwait
Because of internal terrorism, Kuwait has cracked down on internal dissent, expelled a large number of non-Kuwaiti Arabs and placed curbs on Kuwaiti followers of the Shia Muslim sect--the dominant sect in Iran--among other things preventing them from obtaining high-level jobs.
Diplomats in Kuwait said the end of the war may increase pressure on the ruling Sabah family to revive the defunct national legislature, which was closed in July, 1986. The decision to shut it down was based largely on the argument that the Iran-Iraq War had made the region too unstable for parliamentary politics.
Saudi Arabia has a similar problem--friction between its Sunni and Shia Muslim sects--particularly in the oil-rich eastern province where Shias predominate. The contrast in Saudi Arabia manifested itself a year ago when Iranians making the holy pilgrimage to Mecca were involved in a clash that left 400 people dead. This year, after Iran's virtual capitulation, there were many threats but no violence.
If the war does end, it will leave Iraq the undisputed No. 1 military power in the region, with a battle-tested army of 800,000 men armed with sophisticated warplanes, missiles and chemical weapons.
The threat of an unrestrained Iraq will cause concern from Israel, a longtime adversary of Iraq, to Kuwait, where officials still bridle at memories of Iraqi territorial claims to the northern islands off Kuwait. At the time of Kuwaiti independence, in 1961, the Iraqi army mobilized along Kuwait's northern border and pulled back only after Britain intervened on Kuwait's behalf.
Iraq's triumph will also have an impact on Syria, Iraq's longtime rival for leadership of the Arab world, which for the past eight years has sought to exploit its close ties with non-Arab Iran. The defeat of Iran is a tremendous blow to the prestige of Syrian President Hafez Assad.
Assad and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein were at odds even before the war, but their hostility has been intensified since Syria came openly to Iran's support--as with its closing of Iraq's pipeline to the Mediterranean in 1982.
Close to Arafat