Reconciled to a protracted war with Iran, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has begun to dampen militaristic fervor at home in hopes of creating an atmosphere of normality to quell any possible dissension over his stalled offensive.
While there is scant evidence that Iraq's failure to achieve a quick victory in the Persian Gulf War is having serious political repercussions here, Saddam Hussein apparetly believes that a "business as usual" climate at home will help to head off any restiveness that could trickle up to potential rivals in his Arab Baath Socialist Party or to Army general staff officers who may already be resentful of political decisions that have prolonged the war.
To accelerate the appearance of normality, Saddam Hussein has begun presuring foreign contractors to return their employees to uncompleted industrial development projects, according to several Middle East and Western diplmatic sources. Thousands of foreign workers, engineers, technicians and advisers, were evacuated from Iraq by their employers after the gulf war broke out Sept. 22.
Before the war, there were about 10,000 Soviets, 5,000 French, 5,000 Poles, 3,000 East Germans and 1,500 West Germans here as contractors, technological advisers, skilled workers and employes in other fields vital to developing Iraq's economy. About three-fourths of them left after the outbreak of the war, according to estimates of Western observers.
Despite the government's cushion of an estimate $32 billion in foreign reserves, the departure of the foreigners has cut deeply into Iraq's economy and in the long run could cause severe damage to Saddam Hussein's industrial program.
Within the last two weeks, state organizations governing various spheres of Iraq's economy have warned the foreign firms that if they do not return their employees here and resume normal functions, they are not liekly to be granted new government contracts totaling in the billions of dollars, according to informed sources.
More recently, the sources said, the government has increased the pressure, telling the companies either directly or through embassies that they will be blacklisted throughout the Arab world if they fail to heed the call to return. b
In some cases the pressure campaign appears to have transcended either a desire to get the economy back on an even keel or the government's determination to create the appearance of business as usual.
For example, a halt to construction of two large downtown hotels -- the Sheraton and the Meridian -- has threatened to affect the 1982 conference of nonaligned nations, a key to Hussein's aspirations to assume a leading role in the Third World. Italian and Yugoslav firms involved in the projects, which were begun specifically for the nonaligned conference, are said to have come under intense pressue to resume normal operations.
There are other signs that Saddam Hussein is intent on scaling down civilian preoccupation with the war and diverting attention to normal pursuits. cThey are:
All universities in Iraqu, except those in war zones of Basra and Suleimaniya, were reopened last Saturday, and a new university in the capital is scheduled to open this weekend.
Heavy doses of militaristic war propaganda, such as continuous martial music and long patriotic speeches on Iraqi television, have yielded to normal programming and less attention is being paid in the media to such nationalistic gimmicks as the recently-formed militia of retired men over 65 years of age.
There has been a distinct loosening of civil defense regulations in the cities. Traffic lights here are back on at night, shops are staying open later, and even nightclubs have reopened. For the first time since the start of the war, there is considerable traffic on major streets at night, and taxicabs -- once scarce after dark -- are abundant.
The government has increased imports of consumer goods to a point where there are actually more products available than before the war, a situation which observers have attributed to Saddam Hussein's resolve not to stir up public dissatisfaction with the war because of a shortage of food or luxury items.
In such a closed society, permeated by secret police, measuring dissatisfaction with the government's war policies is an imprecise venture at best. But many ordinary Iraqis, while perhaps confused about the ideological motives behind the conflict, appear on the surface to be at ease with military campaign being carried out on the other side of the border and with no major discomfort at home.
If there has been dissent in the hierarchy of the government, it has yet to surface in any verifiable form. There have been rumors that one of Saddam Hussein's closest advisers, Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, has come under sharp attack by Defense Minister Adnan Khairallah, Chief of Staff Gen. Abdel Jabar Shanshal and Foreign Minister Saadoun Hammadi.
Aziz, according to the report, is being criticized because as head of intelligence services, he failed to accurately gauge Iran's defense capability and incorrectly predicted that Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini would be overthrown soon after the Iraqi offensive began.
Arab and Western observers here said they doubted that there was a serious split in Saddam Hussein's government, and that if one existed it would not come into the open until after the end of the war. Then, possibily, there would be some shift in the hierarchy that would reflect dissension over political decisions that affected the course of the military campaign.
"There doesn't appear to be any panic in the government over the length of the war. Frustration, impatience and unhappiness, yes, but no panic," said one observer, noting that Saddam Hussein long ago began stockpiling arms against the possibility of a protracted confrontation.
But two other themes have emerged from the government's pronouncements that indicated Saddam Hussein has resigned himself to many more months of fighting, particularly if both sides' offensives -- as expected -- get bogged down because of the winter rains.
One notion, touched upon by Saddam Hussein in Nov. 9 speech, is that the more casualties inflicted on the Iraqi Army, the more "new rights" Iraq will extract from Iran if Tehran every sues for peace. While these "new rights" have never been articulated by Iraq, they appear to imply territorial concessions beyond the Shatt-al-Arab waterway and three disputed islands in the Strait of Hormuz.
Another emerging theme, expounded by both sides, is that the loser of the war should be obliged to change regimes. Observers, while conceding both threats could be tactical ploys, say they believe that the conditions add to the mounting evidence that the war will continue to drag on inconclusively.