Although the military communiques issued daily from Baghdad and Tehran still speak of the heroic martyrdom of their soldiers in battles wide and far, any further movement in the two-month-old Persian Gulf war now appears about to be called off because of rain.
The fighting between Iraq and Iranian forces goes on, and will no doubt go on for months to come. But defense analysts here in the Iraqi capital say the early onset of the winter rains in recent days will most surely mire down the opposing forces in pretty much the same positions that they now occupy down the western edge of Iran's Khuzestan Province.
The war that was already stalemated by small movements during the past six weeks or so of the dry season, is now expected to bog down in place at least through March, unless somehow diplomats succeed in negotiating the sort of cease-fire and military disengagement that so far has proved impossible.
Defense experts here backed up their assessment by pointing to small hints, buried in otherwise effusive communiques, that the onset of the winter is already having its effects on the battle-front.
Only a day or so ago, Tehran radio noted that an artillery duel with Iraqi forces in the hilly Iranian border town of Sumar, south of the main Baghdad-Tehran highway, had to be interrupted because of heavy rainstorms that made target observation impossible. The radio went on to mention that "due to heavy flooding," 13 Iraqi tents in the town and other rear area equipment were washed away.
In another engagement farther north at the town of Gilan-e-Gharb, Tehran radio reported, three days of heavy rains flooded Iraqi trenches, forcing the Iraqi troops to leave them for higher ground where they were pounded with Iranian artillery.
Earlier in the week, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein acknowledged his own awareness of the onrushing winter by telling a press conference how he had deployed a civilian force of road builders behind his armies in a crash bid to lay all weather roads that would keep his forces resupplied through the wet winter season.
His concern was well founded. The bulk of his Army in Iran -- from three to four of his 12 Army divisions -- is spread out on the southwestern edge of Khuzestan, dug in with tanks and artillery in the vast plain that spreads from southern Iraq into southern Iran.
When Saddam Hussein launched that force into Iran along a four-pronged front Sept. 23, the plain was hard and dusty, and armor as well as troop transports needed no roads at all. Instead they drove into Iran in long lines whatever tracks they chose until they met their Iranian defenders who, aware of the indefensibility of that flat plain, fell back around the province's major towns of Dezful, site of Iran's main air base in the province, the riverine port of Khorramshahr, the oil refinery city of Abadan and the provincial capital of Ahwaz.
Iraq's advantage was a superior force, an element of surprise, and the flexibility of mobility that the plain provided for its tanks and armored personnel carriers.
Once the full force of the rains has hit the plains, and it will in a matter of weeks, the movement off the few roads that exist in the province will be impossible as the flour-like dust of the plain will turn into impassable mud and, down around Abadan itself, into a vertiable swamp.
Defense experts here point out that the rains will effectively negate the Iraqi forces' advantage of equipment and material by forcing them to move along the few roads that slice across the province, making the Iraqi forces ever easier targets for Iranian artillery and the still operational, if reduced, Iranian Air Force.
As serious perhaps is the effect two months or more of rains will have on the Iraqi trenches, foxholes and bull-dozed emplacements in which its tanks, armored personnel carriers, trucks and artillery now sit spread out in a vast arc south of Ahwaz and north and west of Khorramshahr and Abadan.
"It is already too late to crank up any other major military move now without risking getting caught out in even more exposed positions when the rains come," said one defense attache here. "All they can do is dig in the mud and hope the other side remains too weak to exploit the situation from their drier and more secure positions in the cities."
Experts do not discount that the Iraqi forces now besieging Abadan from three sides could still take the city and its still burning oil refinery complex before its surrounding area turns swampy. But that, they think, is the most that can be expected in the coming months.
The winter rains normally last until February. Then the snows begin to melt, flooding the rivers that still bar the way of Iraqi advance in many sectors and making swamps around the northern banks of the Shatt-al-Arab impassable.
Not until March will the terrain dry out enough for the Iraqi Army to even begin to consider mounting new offensives. By then, the expectation is, the war will have been resolved somehow through diplomacy or the economic hardships that Iran is already beginning to suffer because of the dislocations of the war.