Iran has not yet lost its eight-year war with Iraq, despite Iraq's exuberant claims this past weekend. But it has suffered grievous defeats in recent months and the retreat from the oil-rich Majnoon Islands in southern Iraq means that the Iranians are now back behind their own borders nearly everywhere.
Given the larger size of Iran, a military decision is not likely. If Iraq can't win and Iran can't win, this ought to allow reasonable people on either side - if there are any - to seek some kind of end to the war.Until now, the Ayatollah Khomeini has refused to discuss peace, but the elderly Khomeini reportedly is in poor health and jockeying for position among possible successors already is taking place in Teheran.
With leadership shaky at the top, the will to fight seems to have faded away in Iran. Morale among the populace is low. There have been small anti-war demonstrations, and the army is having trouble filling draft quotas. The troops routed from the Majnoon Islands last week included such unreliable forces as units made of of Iraqi deserters and other exiles.
In addition, the long war has taken its toll on the equipment that Khomeini inherited from the shah's U.S.-equipped military forces. Military losses, wear and tear, and the lack of spare parts have reduced the Iranian air force to a shadow of its former self. The same is true with tanks and artillery. On the southern front, Iraq has an estimated 3,000 tanks; Iran can muster only 50. Those numbers go far to explain Iranian defeats in recent months.
Facing up to reality has not been a strong point of Khomeini's government, but the time appears to have arrived for someone in Teheran to do just that.
It would be too much to expect an admission of defeat, but now would seem to be the time for low-key talks aimed at bringing the war to an end. The question is whether Iran has anyone able to undertake such an effort.