Iran's clerics march to political primacy

The determination of antigovernment leftist forces in Iran to take to the streets and muster their forces in the wake of the dismissal of Abolhassan Bani-Sadr as president is producing official repression at two levels:

1. The deploying of "rent-a-mobs" to intimidate through violence and abuse those who challenge the mullahs' increasing control.

2. The use of firing squads to eliminate the leftists.

With the fall of Mr. Bani-Sadr, the Islamic Republic of Iran appears to be entering a new phase in its short, but tumultuous history -- with guns and bombs replacing political dialogue.

Since both the leftists and the fundamentalists are using the most violent means -- knives, sticks, brass knuckles, fists, bullets, and abusive language -- to express their political inclinations, the moderates are being frightened off the streets.

What this means in plain language is that with the moderates silenced, the fight for supremacy will probably be carried out violently by the groups on the two extremes of the political spectrum: the intolerant religious fundamentalists on one extreme and the leftist organizations on the other.

Both sides have guns, but the June 20 violence in which Revolutionary Guards clashed with the Islamic leftist Mujahideen-e Khalq guerrilla organization seemed to indicate that the leftists had fewer guns than the fundamentalists.

But the leftists are obviously not going to give up without a fight.

The mullahs are probably their own worst enemies because of their intolerance and the harsh measures they have used to suppress dissent. But Ayatollah Khomeini is their best propagandist, and as long as he is alive the fundamentalists will probably remain supreme.

Already the Ayatollah has begun a series of speeches against the Mujahideen, the leftist group that appears to have built up the largest following among the moderates. Khomeini's current thrust seems to be to try to win back these moderates by inviting them to "shun the deviationists" and "return to the fold of Islam."

But on June 20, while the Iranian parliament was still going through its impeachment proceedings against Bani- Sadr, the Mujahideen distributed leaflets announcing that it had "declared war" on the regime.

As a revolutionary official later commented, "We did not take this seriously." Yet the same evening, the Mujahideen came out into the streets with arms while their unarmed supporters raced through the streets shouting "death to Behesti."

The slogan they raised was against Ayatollah Muhammad Behesti, the chief of the fundamentalist Islamic Republican Party and Mr. Bani-Sadr's most bitter foe.

But the guerrillas were not well armed. While some did have Kalashnikov submachine guns, others simply carried knives, stones, and sticks.

There was no doubt that it was a coordinated effort. Similar clashes and demonstrations took place in other cities.

The fundamentalists, however, did prove they were supreme. In about four hours they pushed the guerrillas off the streets and replaced the Mujahideen supporters with their own demonstrators, protecting them with the guns of the Revolutionary Guards.

But the fundamentalists were clearly shaken. By the end of the day at least 27 people were dead and more than 400 injured.

The mullahs reacted in two ways. They immediately began putting leftists before firing squads, and by June 22 had executed a total of 29 -- some captured during the clashes and others already in prison. They also hurried through the impeachment proceedings against Mr. Bani- Sadr.

All the while the fundamentalist demonstrators were driven through Tehran to begin instant demonstrations wherever the slightest signs of oppositi on appeared.

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