Tuesday, June 21, 1988

New Blow for Iran: Town Lost to Rebels

Psychological Defeat Seen as Khomeini Foes Score Major Success
Los Angeles Times
June 21, 1988


NICOSIA, Cyprus—Iran appeared to have suffered another severe psychological defeat Monday as rebel forces consolidated their hold on the central border town of Mehran.

The capture Sunday night of Mehran, just inside the Iranian border and about 125 mites east of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, is the greatest military success to date for the rebel National Liberation Army.

The army, a force supported by Iraq and made up of exiled opponents of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was formed a year ago. Diplomats put its strength at about 10,000 troops.

In a communiqué, the rebel force said that its members do not intend to take up defensive positions around the town and thus become pinned down.

“On the contrary,” said Mahmoud Attai, identified as the group’s chief of staff, “we are contemplating much larger offensives for which the capture of the city of Mehran is considered only a prelude.”

The Liberation Army forces are expected to hold the town for a few days and then withdraw back into Iraq.

Western journalists who accompanied the rebels into Mehran said they saw little sign of fighting in the streets; and this suggested to Western military analysts that the Iranian military did not offer much resistance.’

Don Kerr, an analyst at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, said: “The success at Mehran is noteworthy on two counts. The Iraqis are continuing to push the Iranians, and something is not right in the Iranian armed forces.”

Other analysts said the fact that it was rebel Iranian units based in Iraq. not regular Iraqi army units, that moved into Mehran also was significant. If Iraqi troops had been involved, they said, the incident might have caused a turnaround in public support for Khomeini, which is believed to be ebbing.

Political Setback

Historically, Mehran’ has had little strategic value, but the fact that it has been taken by rebels is politically important. And its loss is the latest in a growing list of political setbacks suffered by the Iranian government in recent months. Among the others:

— The Faw Peninsula, captured by Iran in February; 1986, has been retaken by Iraqi troops.
— In a confrontation with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf, six ships of the Iranian navy were lost or severely damaged.
— Iranian forces have lost ground east of the southern city of l3asra. The area had been taken by the Iranians at the cost of many casualties.

According to military analysts, Iran’s recent setbacks seem to have been caused not so much by Iraqi prowess on the battlefield as by a lack of Leadership in Tehran. This point of view appeared to have been bolstered last month when Khomeini named Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful Speaker of Iran’s Parliament, to the post of armed forces commander in chief.

In other action in the region, Iraq claimed to have shot down an invading Iranian F-5 warplane on the northern front. Another Iranian F-S narrowly escaped, according to a communiqué issued in Baghdad. There was no immediate comment from Tehran.