Leftist guerrillas in Iran have not been cowed by the wave of repression that has hit them since the ouster of President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr. Nor have they been willing, as yet, to plunge the country into civil war.
The tactic of the Mujahideen, together with their other leftist allies, appears to be to hold back from any full-scale confrontation with the ruling mullahs -- at least for the time being.
Asked why they did not launch an all-out civil war on the regime, some Mujahideen explain that they are waiting for a moment when public opinion swings in their favor.
However, there may be another explanation. One of the guerrillas is reported to have told a confidant that the organization was afraid that if they launched a civil war at this stage, some Army officers may take advantage of the situation to stage a coup d'etat. This is expected to be a pro-American group and the guerrillas do not wish to help a new group of Army officers come to power.
To some it seems in fact that with the strong smell of an impending coup in the air, the Islamic leftist Mujahideen-e Khalq guerrillas are probably conserving their strength for a struggle against more formidable foes -- rihgt-wing Army officers.
Though their strength is sometimes estimated at between 50,000 and 100,000 men, all knowledgeable students of Iranian affiars believe the real strength of the hard-core Mujahideen guerrillas is no more than 7,000.
In addition to the hard-core guerrillas, there also is a Mujahideen "militia, " which in the past was responsible for protecting Mujahideen demonstrations and rallies. Members of a noncombatant "political" wing are known simply as "Mujahideen supporters." In the past they have been responsible for spreading the ideology of the group through demonstrations or by distributing leaflets and the organization's nespapers. All these activities now are banned as the ruling clergy comes down with an iron hand on any form of dissent.
During the last three weeks, the ruling fundamentalists have been sending group after group of people before the firing squad.
The number of executions between June 20 and July 9 stood at 174. The overwhelming majority of those killed were leftists, with a smattering of narcotics dealers and sex offenders making up the rest.
The new wave of executions began after the Islamic leftist Mujahideen-e Khalq guerrilla organization dared to challenge the supremacy of the mullahs on June 20, when it came out into the streets with guns.
Asked why they had retreated after a barely three-hour skirmish with the Revolutionary Guards, one Mujahideen member said, "Too many people came out into the streets. We didn't want them to get killed in the cross fire."
It was, nevertheless, a valuable experience for the guerrillas on how not to fight the guards; the mullahs were determined to make them pay heavily for the lesson.
First they shot just about any leftist they could capture on the streets on June 20, including people who were simply carrying leftist leaflets. They then began looking into their prisons and hauling before the firing squad leftists who had been arrested earlier.
Not only the Mujahideen but other leftist groups were considered "permissible" targets for the executioners' guns. These included the Peykar group, a minority faction of the Fedayeen-e Khalq (both Marxist-Leninist) and the Ranjbaran Party (Maoist).
Asked why the prisoners were being shot, Islamic Judge Muhammad Gilani said the leftists had declared war on the Islamic Republic. He then launched into a lengthy explanation of Islamic jurisprudence, which he said justified the killing of prisoners "who have backing." The leftists, he claimed, had the backing of the superpowers.
The Mujahideen said they had not "declared war" on the regime just yet. The misunderstanding had arisen from a leaflet they had issued on June 20.
"We simply said that for every member of our organization they killed, we would kill one of their men," one of the guerrillas said. Did this mean that for every Mujahideen guerrilla or supporter executed, a guerrilla group would gun down a Revolutionary Guard? The Mujahideen member replied, "We are not interested in the little fish. We'll get the big ones, the important ones."
One way or another this did sound like a declaration of war, but it also indicated that what the Mujahideen had in mind was the kind of terrorist tactics they had used earlier against the Shah's secret police Savak. In this way they could decimate the ranks of the mullahs and their top-level lay- supporters without losing too many own men in battles with the Revolutionary Guards.