President Saddam Hussein tonight said that the continuing war with Iran had raised the price Iraq would demand from Tehran for peace.
The Iraqi president, in a major nationally televised speech given before his nation's consultative national assembly, said that the seven-week-old gulf war had "imposed its own claims" over those that first led to the eruption of the conflict between the two OPEC neighbors last Sept. 22.
The stoney-faced Iraqi president did not specify what these new claims might be. His nation's original demands, on which he did not elaborate in his speech, included Iranian recognition of Iraqi sovereignty over the Shatt-al-Arab waterway that divides the two countries, acceptance of border adjustments and a return to Arab sovereignty of three islands in the mouth of the Persian Gulf originally taken by the late shah of Iran from the sheikdom of Ras al Khaima in 1971.
"If [Ayatollah] Khomeini wants to continue the war, he can continue it until eternity," Saddam Hussein said, speakly calmly and unemotionally. "But he must know that war imposes its own claims which are greater than those that existed before the war."
Although Hussein did not define these new "claims," Western analysts believed he was alluding to the possible demand that the Iranian province of Khuzestan, called Arabistan by the Iraqis, be established as an autonomous, Arab, province. Iraq has long maintained that Khuzestan, whose populations is about 40 percent Arab, was always a part of the Arab world until it was given to Iran in a big-power deal between Britain and Russia in the 19th century.
Hussein said that Iraq was "prepared" and "equipped" for a long, drawn-out war with Iran and reiterated that his nation would not give up its fight until it had won "total recognition" for its claims against Iran.
The Iraqi president, speaking for the first time in more than a month on the war, vowed, however, that from the moment Tehran agreed to accept Iraq's "just demands," he would order Iraq troops to withdraw from Iran "tomorrow."
The Iraqi leader's public references to possibly drawn-out conflict with the Iranians constituted one of the first open admissions to the Iraqi public that the war may not prove to be a quick one.
Saddam Hussein made no references in his address to the United States or to the hostage situation. Most recent public statements by the Iraqi government have included warnings to Washington not to supply Iran with arms as part of an agreement to secure the hostages' release. There was no explanation here today of his omission of this issue.
Hussein, dressed in a freshly pressed green uniform of an Iranian field marshal and with a pistol strapped to his waist, spoke in a sober, almost fatherly monotone about Baghdad's position on the war before a collection of assemblymen made up of sunglass-wearing party functionaries, turbaned mullahs, headdress-shrouded village elders and business-suited professionals.
"We will fight until the enemy yields," Hussein said. "There is talk that a shortage of spare parts will be a factor, but Iraq has been building up its stocks for 13 years and we have enough spare parts to continue the war for a long time."
The president's speech came only hours after his brother-in-law and defense minister, Gen. Adnan Khairallah, announced that the Iraqi Army battling in the oil-rich Khuzestan Province had finally succeeded in surrounding the provincial capital of Ahwaz.
There was no objective way of verifying the claim, however. In view of previous exaggerated Iraqi claims to have "captured" or "overrun" other major Khuzestan cities, there was skepticism among observers about Gen. Khairallah's statement today.
Both Iran and Iraq made claims today of major victories elsewhere along the battle front, with each claiming to have wiped out large units of the other's forces. As with the claim about Ahwaz, there was no way to confirm the reports.
The Iraqi president told his nation's national assemblymen that Iraq never wanted war with Iran but had been forced into it by repeated Iranian provocations along their long border. He said that some 60,000 casualties had resulted from border clashes and air raids with Iran over the past five years.
"We never wanted a war," Hussein said, "and we gave Iran chance after chance to avoid one. They refused, and thus we are now locked in battle."
The Iraqi president, alluding to the estimated $35 billion in reserves economists estimate Iraq has banked away, said Iraq was "economically strong" enough to fight a "long war." He did not state just what the time span for such a long war might be, however, although his government's central bank governor three weeks ago predicted that Iraq could fight two more years without earning another dollar in foreign exchange if need be.
"We will not hesitate in this war," President Saddam Hussein said, "even if we have to mobilize our whole population for the battle to win."
The Iraqi president also blamed the whole war on Ayatollah Khomeini. He said Khomeini has "a rotten mind and he doesn't differentiate between one country and another, between one people and another. He is full of illusion."