While Iraq's bombs rain on Tehran, there is not so much as a blackout or a curfew here. Baghdad at night is a city of lights, bright highways and busy streets, its skyline resplendent with ultramodern hotels for businessmen and vast monuments to the war's martyrs.

In recent fighting, the only visible damage suffered by Baghdad has been the destruction of an empty set of bleachers in a soccer stadium hit by an Iranian missile.

An Iranian missile hit in central Baghdad Monday -- the third in 16 days -- with an explosion heard over a wide area, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported. The area was cordoned off. A government communique acknowledged the attack but gave no reports on damage or casualties.

In the capital, where about a fourth of Iraq's people live, the government of President Saddam Hussein makes every effort to spare the population the pain -- even the inconvenience -- of war.

The situation reportedly is much worse in Basra, a city of 1 million near the Iranian border in southeastern Iraq, where on some days a hundred or more artillery shells have landed and caused widespread damage and panic, according to foreigners returning from the area. But the attacks on Basra have gone unreported here and foreign journalists have been unable to visit.

Despite the efforts to keep the war out of sight in the capital, even here, it is said, almost everyone has lost someone in the fighting. And while the country has developed rapidly during the last five years, questions have grown about why the war need continue at all. There is a certain sense, amid all this education and development, that there is ever more to lose.

"This war has to end," said a frustrated medical student. "It ruins your life. You look at uneducated people and maybe for them it doesn't matter. They are not suffering. But we have to bear this burden."

On paper, Iraq's military advantages should now be overwhelming, with an estimated four-to-one superiority in air power. On the ground, military analysts here believe Iraq has three-to-one superiority in tanks and mechanized units.

Almost daily for the past 16 days, Iraqi planes have bombed Tehran or other Iranian cities. They have stepped up the pace of the war along the Persian Gulf with reported attacks around Kharg Island, a major Iranian oil facility, and claim to have captured Iranian military positions in the southern marshes.

But Iraq is fighting a limited war with defensive objectives, and after almost five years of combat several foreign military analysts here say they believe that its strategy of trying to "calibrate" its actions against Iran may lead either to interminable stalemate or to defeat.

Almost since its troops first rolled across the border and directly engaged Iranian forces, Iraq has called for negotiated settlements and has accepted every international mediation effort.

It now attempts to garner international support as the peace-maker pitted against intransigent Iranian fanaticism.

Meanwhile, oil pipelines under construction are expected to renew Iraq's petroleum export capacity and shore up its economy for as long as it takes to wear down Iran.

"Victory for us," said a senior government official, "is to defend ourselves until the other side gives up. It's not a question of hitting the jugular or dropping bombs like at Hiroshima. There is no jugular."

"Obviously we cannot occupy Iran or even Tehran," the official said. "There is a halfway point, and that is to hit very hard at their economic targets."

Yet Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini insists there cannot be peace until Iraq admits it was the aggressor and Saddam Hussein has fallen.

"What is eluding us," said the senior Iraqi official, who asked not to be quoted by name, "is how to persuade the Iranians that to export the revolution, to dictate the government of Iraq is not negotiable."

While the will of the leaders remains strong, the will of the men fighting on the ground is, increasingly, a question mark. Several analysts here suggest that in a test of wills between the soldiers, the Iranians have a clearcut edge.

In March, a major Iranian offensive in the southern marshes was stopped after a week of heavy fighting that killed an estimated 30,000 Iranians and perhaps only a third as many Iraqis. But Iran is now said to be solidly entrenched in the marshes well inside Iraq.

Repeated requests to visit the southern front recently as new fighting erupted there were put off by Iraqi officials.

Foreigners reaching Baghdad from Basra early this month said up to 200 artillery shells daily were hitting the city. On May 29, a girls' school reportedly was hit, with four killed and 27 injured, but there was no official confirmation.

Government officials have conceded privately that Iranian planes made raids against oil installations near Basra.

More dangerous, from Iraq's military perspective, is the possibility that Iran will again cut the road between Basra and Al Amara, as it did briefly in March.

Iranian units helicoptered into action there in March were able to carry with them only hand-held weapons. Since then, Iran is reported by western military sources here to have built causeways and pontoon bridges to within five miles of the Iraqi front lines to move up tanks and artillery.

Iraq has "every advantage a defender could wish for," said one experienced military analyst here. By diverting the Tigris River, for example, Iraq controls even the water level of the marshes on the border.